Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy!

Author Gina Conroy

Since we talk about writing on this blog and ways to improve our craft, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to author Gina Conroy.  Gina used to think she knew where her life was headed; now she’s leaning on the Lord to show her the way.  She is the founder of Writer…Interrupted  where she mentors busy writers and tries to keep things in perspective. Her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012, and she’s recently contracted her first full length mystery with Stonehouse Ink. Gina loves to connect with readers. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Welcome, Gina!

Who can forget that beloved Ms. Frizzle who inspired her class to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”All but play-it-safe Arnold loved Ms. Frizzle’s fieldtrips that took them to places they’d never been before, often leading them into scary and unfamiliar territory. But oh the adventures they had! Even Arnold would end up enjoying himself when he finally quit focusing on the danger.

Sometimes I feel like Arnold, wanting to remain in the comfort zone, showing my work only to safe people, people I know will love it. But to go places I’ve never been before (like publication) and to experience the excitement and wonder of taking chances (getting a contract,) I first need to get messy and not dwell on the mistakes I’ll make (writing my manuscript.)

The other day before I sent my proposal to my agent I reflected on Ms. Frizzles words again and felt a bit like Arnold. I’m still only learning to write a first draft without editing the whole thing as I go. It’s not easy to leave my mess on the page and move on. It’s not easy to see mistakes in my plot and know I must plow forward before I go back and fix things. And it’s not easy to take chances and hit send on my words before I believe they’re ready to be viewed by professional eyes.

But that’s what I did. I hit send on my proposal to my agent because ACFW conference is in few weeks, and I’d rather look like an idiot in front of him, then in front of an editor. It’s not easy to get feedback on our mess, but it’s necessary. In fact, it was my agent who once told me “you can’t fix nothing!” So I figured he, if anyone, would understand my mess!

Then the email response came. Before I opened, I took a deep breath, then hesitated. Then dove into the email, taking a chance, again. To my relief he said, “my writing is really good.” Of course, he pointed out a mess I needed to clean up before I showed an editor, but I took a chance and I’m glad I did. Now I can move forward with a little more confidence than before.

Are you taking chances or are your messes and mistakes keeping you from your next adventure?

Check out Gina’s book, BURIED DECEPTION:

Mount Vernon archaeology intern and widow Samantha Steele wants to provide for her children without assistance from anyone. Security guard and ex-cop Nick Porter is haunted by his past and keeps his heart guarded. But when they discover an artifact at Mount Vernon is a fake, Nick and Samantha need to work together, set aside their stubbornness, and rely on each other or the results could be deadly. Will Samantha relinquish her control to a man she hardly knows? Can Nick learn to trust again? And will they both allow God to excavate their hearts so they can find new love?

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Growing Up in Mayberry

I grew up in a small Kansas farming community where everyone knew your name and your business. I guess that’s why I easily related to Andy and the cast of characters in the ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW. Those fine folks on that show made me want to be a better person.

When I learned that the iconic actor who captured the essence of a patient father, faithful friend, and small town sheriff died, it felt like I’d lost a friend.

Thank you for sharing your talents with the world, Andy Griffith.

Wondering about Andy’s path to fame, I poked around on the internet. Interestingly, Andy was an only child raised on the wrong side of the tracks. He discovered he had entertaining talents (music and drama) on a Baptist church stage. A pastor taught Andy to play the trombone and sing. That same pastor told Andy he was good, that he had talent. And Andy believed him, believed his pastor enough to try out for a school production where a teacher saw his potential and encouraged Andy to pursue music … and the rest is showbiz history.

Andy’s journey to stardom made me smile.

Here’s one of my favorites.

I’ve spent years directing church skits, Christmas pageants, and giving private acting lessons. Hundreds of kids have crossed my stage. Did the hours of work make any difference? As far as I know, none of my students are famous … yet. But I pray that when they left Ms. Lynne’s stage, they had more confidence, felt good about themselves, and knew without a doubt that someone believed them to be extremely valuable.

Or maybe this is one of my very favorites?

Here’s a thank you to that pastor and teacher who encouraged Andy Griffith. I wonder if they had any idea that the difference they made in a young boy’s life would eventually bless mine?

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A few days ago, four 7th grade boys mounted a verbal assault against their 68-year-old bus monitor. Someone captured the sad event on a cell phone video that’s gone viral. Karen Klein’s ill-treatment has sparked international outrage. Nearly a half million dollars has been raised to send this grandmother on the vacation she deserves.

People treating other people badly for their own entertainment is not new.

I’ve spent the past few days digging into a favorite pastime of third century Romans… the gladiator games. That ancient civilization loved to pit the weak against the strong. They thought the bloodshed of innocents a great sport.

Lynne demonstrating a costume a Roman aristocrat might have worn to the games.

Watching Karen defend herself in this video reminded me of the defenseless men and women trapped in the arena as the laughing masses looked on and did nothing.

Note Karen’s body language (warning the video is tough to watch). At first, this seasoned grandmother tries to ignore the taunts, but her body language tells you even the first strike landed a painful blow. She lifts her chin, crosses her arms over her core, and turns her head away from the onslaught. As the jabs continue, wounding deeper with each thrust, being trapped between the seats becomes more unbearable. She offers quick, short, controlled verbal responses. But she’s pushed into a corner and can’t get out. She rubs her eyes, and then her face. She grabs the seat for support. Eventually, she cannot restrain the tears.

Don’t you just want to stop the bus and let some teenagers have it? I’m sure there were other kids on the bus who felt the same way I do. Maybe even the bus driver. Then why didn’t they do anything?

Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

The human response to evil fascinates me. My stories investigate why some people run from trouble and why others find unfathomable courage, throw back their shoulders, and stare it down.

What would you have done if you’d been on the bus with Karen?

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Royal Fascination

We couldn’t join the millions of spectators braving the cold wet streets of London to honor Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, so we’re living vicariously by having a DOWNTON ABBEY marathon in the comfort of our living room.

Munching buttered popcorn, we sit in our middle class home and devour Julian Fellowes’ tale about an aristocratic family living on a fictional estate in Yorkshire, England during the early 1900’s. We love the clothes. The house. The idea of having someone wait on you hand and foot. The tension between the three sisters. The interaction between the Earl and his servants. And we love watching supporting actress, Violet Crawley (Granny), steal every scene.

Maybe you don’t care to watch a 50-member ensemble cast in a royalty costume drama, but admit it … the upper crust is fascinating. I bet you have your eye on someone who has more than you right now. A movie star, a professional athlete, a Fortune 500 member, Will and Kate, or your boss who can afford that new boat you’ve wanted forever. PEOPLE MAGAZINE stays in business because we long to peek into the lives of the rich and famous.

This fascination with wealth and power is not new.

I’m researching the Roman Empire for my next book. Greed drove the Roman army into the far reaches of the frontier. People schemed to become Emperor. Even the deadly conspiracies that put an end to it all could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

Digging into the lives of royals makes for fascinating story fodder. Want to spice up your stories? Toss in some greed or envy. People won’t be able to put it down.

P.S. Just got a Twitter follow from a fabulous blogger DOWNTON ABBEY COOKS. Check it out.

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No Church in the Wild

Have you heard Kanye West’s lyrics in Jay-Z’s newly released music video? The haunting defiance of the bridge caught my attention:
Human beings in a mob

What’s a mob to a king?

What’s a king to a god?

What’s a god to a non-believer?

Who don’t believe in anything?

We make it out alive

All right, all right

No church in the wild

Wondering what these words meant, I clicked on the video (don’t watch unless you have a strong stomach). This disturbing work shows an oppressed people raising their fist at uniformed enforcers and fighting like folks who’ve nothing left to lose.

Humans treating other humans badly is not a new story.

The book I’m currently writing investigates some of the worst political persecution in recorded history. Back during the centuries Rome ruled the world, oppressed and mistreated Christians asked the same question: would they make it out alive?

When people believe in God, it has the potential to change them for the better. They begin to treat others well. But Christians are also human. They can act just like everyone else. And when they do, West is right. There is no church in the wild.

The stakes in our stories matter. Set the stage of your story with conflict, then run your characters through the gauntlet. Explore their strengths and weaknesses. Make the reader wonder if they’ll make it out alive.

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Stop and Watch the Solar Eclipse

Yesterday evening a friend texted me and said I should check out the sun. After I finished the laundry, loaded the dishwasher, and checked my email, I dashed outside. A faint rosy glow was all that remained in the western sky. I’d been so busy keeping up with the plot of my life I missed an important reflective moment.

This isn’t the solar eclipse. I missed it, remember? But it is a sunset I caught at one of my favorite lakes.

Sometimes we drag our characters through a story at breakneck speed and never allow them or the reader an opportunity to reflect upon deeper meanings.

Dallas Morning News theater critic, Lawson Taitte, made this interesting observation of the Broadway musical, Memphis:

Memphis sizzles with light and heat … so why is it that I feel as if I have eaten something iced with synthetic shortening when the show is over? … Director Christopher Ashley tells the fairly complex story clearly, and choreographer Sergio Trujillo keeps the dancers jumpin’ and jivin’. Maybe the incessant motion, in fact, is one reason for the bad taste in my mouth. The show never really slows down enough to let a song land.

Writing a gripping story is like writing a moving musical score. Moments of frenetic movement are  made more powerful by the tiny little rest. What does the rest look like in storytelling?

*Have a character make a cup of coffee then hold the steaming mug in their hands, breathing in the smell, as they listen to the tick of their grandmother’s kitchen clock.
*Sit a character on the stoop. Allow them to take in the trash and broken windows of what was once a beautiful neighborhood.
*Take your character outside and let them gaze at the stars and feel their own insignificance compared to such splendor and immensity.

This is the life!

I had the pleasure of spending the day at the lake with this little fellow. He went non-stop, exploring every rock, tree, and bug. Late in the afternoon he asked for a snack. He raced to the bank, plopped down in his little lawn chair, and sat there for thirty minutes…resting. Don’t you wonder what he was thinking? Did he feel as small as he looks? Did he dream of swimming to the other side of the lake or contemplate conquering the world? Even three-year-olds with boundless energy have to rest now and then. I think it is in the resting, contemplating, and observing that we learn the most.

Every once in awhile, let your characters slow down and land a song. Let them learn in the quiet then send them hurtling into the fray once again. And NEVER let them miss a chance to soak in a solar eclipse.

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Characters that Pop

I asked good friend and author Carla Stewart to drop by and discuss her favorite character in her new release, STARDUST. Carla’s writing reflects her passion for times gone by. A child of the fifties and sixties, she recalls it as a glorious time when the summers were lazy, colors were brighter, and music filled her heart. Carla’s desire is to take readers back to the times when they knew they were loved, to that warm, familiar place in the heart called “home.” This gifted writer does an excellent job creating characters that leap from the page to dance upon the stage of your mind long after you close the book.

Tell us why you picked Ludi Harper and what you did to layer this character for the reader, Carla.

The Unflappable Carla Stewart

Thanks, Lynne, for having me here on Stage Write. So blessed.

They’re ALL my favorites, but if I had to pick one, it would be the unassuming Ludi Harper, a resident of the isolated, impoverished community of Zion. She was the maid at the Stardust before Georgia Payton inherited the rundown cottages. One day she appears, her girth wide enough to nearly fill a doorway, and asks what she can do to help. She offers her earthy wisdom, a strong back, and her bosom to cry in.

Here’s how Georgia first sees Ludi:

She lumbered after me into the office, her hands worrying the apron she wore, an apronthat carried the remnants of a half dozen spatters of what looked like tomatoes, maybe a bit of gravy. Her hair, though, was pulled into a neat bun at the back of her head, and she smelled of wood smoke and earth and something faint, but sweet. Her feet were stuffed into men’s black leather shoes, the laces missing which allowed her beefy flesh room to breathe at the tops.

When Ludi plants her hands on her hips, she commands attention, but when she’s fretting, she worries her apron with work worn hands. Ludi’s speech is that of the abject poverty and culture of Zion, and when she was on the scene, I only had to close my eyes and let her direct the words onto the page.

Each day, Georgia listens for “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as Ludi’s voice, like warm honey, wafts across the meadow signaling her arrival.  She’s the constant that Georgia needs. The voice of reason. The sweet whisper of God.

We all need a Ludi in our lives. I know I do.

Buy STARDUST now. You won’t be disappointed.

Follow the #Stardust Blog Tour and get your name in drawing for signed copy from @ChasingLilacs (Carla Stewart). http://tiny.cc/lu69dw

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