A Special Announcement

A Special Announcement

Hello! If you are new to my blog, please bear with me as this post is out of the norm for me. I am typically a very private person, but something very special has recently come to fruition for my family which I feel compelled to share with you all.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may have noticed my lowered rate of interaction with your comments in recent weeks. Here is why:

Our family has grown! 

Our family officially began the adoption process in 2012. We began by pursuing the adoption of a special needs girl in Russia. Unfortunately, Russia closed to adoptions by U.S. parents in December of 2012 while we were in mid-process. After a grieving period and much prayer, we worked for more than a year to become a resource family for our county. When our foster placement didn’t work out, the loss was too much for our three boys so we turned our focus back to international adoption. In 2015 we began the process of adopting a child in China. On August 15, 2017, we flew to China to meet our daughter. On August 21, 2017, she officially became a member of our family. When we returned to the U.S. on September 3, she became a citizen of the United States of America.

Public Photo of Ava

While we are over the moon to have this little girl join our family, adoption isn’t easy on anyone involved. Today, we are settling in and working toward a new normal.  This means I will be skipping next week’s Monday post as we work through the various appointments our girl needs to attend now that she is home and spend time bonding as a family. It also means that I may continue to be a bit slower in responding to comments for the next couple weeks, but I hope to play catch-up soon on what I missed while I was out of the country. I also hope to be back at my typical reply speed soon.

NOTE:  I fully understand that adoption is a controversial topic. However, this is not the place to get into debates on the issue. There are many other sites available online for those discussions. Any negative or politically oriented comments will be deleted. Thank you for understanding.

 

 

SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference 2017

SoCal Christian Writers Conference 2017

If you have been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you know that I attended my 5th conference last week:  the first annual SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference. Here’s a little taste of what it was like:

Biola Campus SoCalCWC17

I arrived early on Wednesday to check in and get settled in my room.

Dorm Room Pillow SoCalCWC17

Headed to Registration SoCalCWC17

After registration, I ate dinner in the cafeteria and then hung out with these two wonderful ladies:

New Friends SoCalCWC17

The next morning we ate breakfast in the cafeteria before heading to the chapel for worship and morning announcements.

Morning Announcements SoCalCWC17

They also introduced about one-third of the faculty at this time. They continued these introductions each morning of the conference. I really liked this unique feature because it was helpful for matching names and faces to those whose appearance didn’t exactly match their bio photos, and it gave us a chance to get a peek into each faculty member’s personality.

Next up was a quick break followed by my first continuing session. I chose the Intermediate/Advanced Fiction session with Tosca Lee.

Tosca Lee SoCalCWC17

I admit to some hesitation in my choice since I had taken similarly titled classes at other conferences and walked away feeling like I’d gotten little more than a review. Tosca’s class was nothing like that. It was original, intense, and interactive. It felt as though I were in college again. She even gave us homework at the end of each class.

Next up was lunch at the cafeteria where I got to spend time chatting with my fellow conferees as well as faculty. Meal times quickly became one of my favorite parts of the conference because of the great conversations and connections I was able to make.

 

Breakfast SoCalCWC17
My new friend Kara Swanson just debuted her first novella, The Girl Who Could See! Check it out!

 

After lunch there were two workshop sessions with a break in between. I wound up entirely missing the first workshop I had wanted to attend because it happened that my first two appointments were both during that class.

I met with Erin Taylor Young and then Miralee Ferrell. Both conversations were very enlightening and the resulting conversations were just what I was hoping for from the appointments.

I did make it to my second workshop, given by Sandra Barela on Keys to A Successful Book Proposal where I realized I’d misunderstood what the agent was looking for in one section of the proposal the last (and first) time I had put one together.

Successful Book Proposal SoCalCWC17

After the afternoon workshops we had another break followed by a Publishing Panel where they passed microphones around the audience and we had a chance to ask questions of the publishing experts on stage.

Publishing Panel SoCalCWC17

After that was another break and dinner. Then we sang more worship and a Keynote was given by Karen Ball. I have to tell you, I felt as though this Keynote was the reason God had me at that conference. Not to discount the many other wonderful conversations and classes, but I truly felt as though God were speaking right through Karen to me. That doesn’t happen all that often for me, but for some reason lately, He seems to be getting my attention in exactly this way.

Karen Ball Keynote SoCalCWC17

After Karen’s keynote, there was a break followed by a live blog radio broadcast by Parker J. Cole with interviews of faculty and conferees and a Story Tell-Off, where two authors went at it by trying to tell the best story.

I took advantage of the break to run back to my dorm room to retrieve something, and on my way back to the broadcast, I spotted Sandra Barela setting up her laptop in the lobby of the dorm. Since I had wanted an appointment with her, but she booked up before I could sign up, I took advantage of the opportunity to speak with her. (She had mentioned in her class earlier that afternoon that she would be available to talk that night in the lobby.) What I thought would be a quick 15-minute conversation turned into 70 minutes which only ended because another conferee showed up wanting to speak with her and I quickly excused myself. After all, I’d already taken over an hour of her time! But she was so easy to talk to and her genuine heart for writers and for God practically glowed from her. Although I was disappointed to miss the broadcast event, my talk with Sandra was definitely one of the highlights of the conference for me. Part of the result of that conversation is that I am now a member of the Celebrate Lit blogger team!

After my talk with Sandra, I headed to my room where I reviewed my notes on what was happening the next day and completed my homework for Tosca’s class before grabbing my Kindle and heading to bed.

The next two days went very much the same:  breakfast, morning announcements & worship, continuing session, lunch, afternoon workshops, and dinner.

Afternoon Workshop SoCalCWC17

Friday afternoon I missed most of the second workshop due to appointments with Karen Ball and Stephanie Alton. Both appointments were encouraging and enlightening. I was very grateful for the opportunity to speak with both of these women.

Kim Bangs Keynote SoCalCWC17

On Friday evening there was an agent panel followed by a Keynote by Kim Bangs and a concert given by Sally Klein O’Connor.

On Saturday evening there was an Awards and Autograph Party followed by a Keynote by Allen Arnold and the ceremony for the Excellence in Editing Award winners.

 

Biola Scripture Art SoCalCWC17
Ready to start the last day of #SoCalCWC17 and enjoying the various #scripture displayed around this beautiful campus. #writerslife

 

By the end of the conference, although incredibly grateful for the many blessings it had brought, I was ready to go home.

 

Dorm Bathroom SoCalCWC17
The glamorous life of a writer…trekking down the dorm hall to the shared bathroom in your bathrobe and flip flops. #youknowyourejealous #writerslife

 

I wistfully looked forward to sleeping in my own bed with a bathroom that was not down a very long, shared hallway and my brain was absolute mush. In fact, Saturday afternoon I had caught myself speaking to myself – a quirk I develop when I am very tired. So if you ever hear me saying things like, “Wait, where was I supposed to go next? Oh  right. … No wait, it’s this way. Where did I put that? … Oh here it is.” Well, you’ll know my brain has reached capacity and has no more room for thoughts so the overflow is just spilling out my mouth. I’m not crazy. Just overflowing with knowledge. Yeah. That’s it.

Below are some of my favorite quotes from the speakers and workshops at the conference. Please feel free to share them and don’t forget to tag me @KathleenDenly!

TWEETABLES:

“My identity isn’t being a writer. My identity is in Christ.” – Tosca Lee

“Make your marketing plan before you start writing. Update as necessary.” – Sandra Barela

“Stepping forward because the God of the universe whispered in your ear, ‘Write for Me.'” – Karen Ball

“Try to obey in a less worried way.” – Karen Ball

“Don’t get so focused on the destiny that you resent the journey.” – Karen Ball

“God has never called for shoddy work.” – Karen Ball

“Agents are like Yentas.” – Karen Ball

“The shortest path isn’t always the best route.” – Kim Bangs

“Take pride in how far you’ve come. Have faith in how far you can go. Don’t forget to enjoy the journey.” – Kim Bangs

“We’re not all broken the same way, but we are all broken. Broken crayons still color.” – Kim Bangs

“We have to know God more than we know our circumstances.” – Kim Bangs

“God’s never failed anyone and He’s not going to start with you!” – Kim Bangs

“In perseverance, you find your story.” – Kim Bangs

“Is protecting yourself keeping you from obeying God?” – Kim Bangs

“Are you more fearful or more faithful?” – Kim Bangs

“Secret #5:  Bestselling authors lead with their strengths & manage their weaknesses.” – Tosca Lee

“Even bestsellers get one-star reviews.” – Tosca Lee

“Allow room for mystery in the process.” – Tosca Lee

“You waste a lot of time. We all do.” – Lindsay Franklin

“Distractions are productivity killers!” – Lindsay Franklin

“Use humor to lighten the heavy moments.” – Renae Brumbaugh Green

Which quote is your favorite?

 

Easter Eggstravaganza!

Easter Eggstravaganza

Since we celebrated the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ this past weekend, I thought today’s post ought to take a slight detour from my usual topics in honor of this important holiday.

Not discounting the magnificent gift of Christ being born in human form, I believe the Easter holiday to be the most important. For all of our faith rests on that which we celebrated this weekend. If Jesus did not truly die and rise again to reign at the right hand of our Father in heaven, then our faith is for naught.

1 Cor 15_17

That said, do not worry. It is not my intention to suddenly attempt the impersonation of a pastor. 😉

Instead, I shall focus today on one of the funnest parts of our Easter celebration traditions:  the Easter Egg. Decorating and hunting these eggs, which are said to represent the empty tomb and resurrection, are one of the most anticipated parts of each years’ celebration.

However, this year my family thought we would try something different. So instead of the usual dying and hunting, we made Wobbly Ninja Eggs and experimented with Easter Egg Rockets. You can click the links for the original instructions which inspired our fun, but truthfully, this was a last minute decision and we didn’t have all the required materials so we tweaked things to fit what we had on hand.

In place of the recommended googly eyes and duct tape (which I know we have, but which seem to have found a super secret hiding space somewhere in our home), for the Wobbly Ninja Eggs we used permanent markers, sticky foam squares (left over from scrapbooking), and scotch tape. We also used some left over air dry clay on the inside in place of the recommended modeling clay.

Ninja Eggs Blog Image

Our results may not be as Pinterest worthy as the originals, but my kids had a blast making and playing with them just the same.

For the rocket eggs I grabbed a generic box of seltzer tabs and a cheap bag of plastic eggs from Walmart while I was there picking up some other necessities. Then we used some leftover painter’s tape to cover the holes in the top and bottom before decorating (again with permanent marker).  Also, since our eggs didn’t come with feet, we made little cardboard “launching stands” to hold our eggs vertical.

Rocket Eggs Close-up
The two I doodled on.
Egg Rocket Process
As you can see, we tried both water and vinegar in combination with the seltzer tabs to see which would produce the best results. Conclusion:  both worked equally well.

Although we did achieve success, I admit we had more fizzles than pops because the eggs were so flimsy. So if you are going to try this, I would recommend shelling out another buck or two to get the stiffer/stronger plastic eggs (the cheaper ones didn’t always have a satisfying snap when closed and those without a good *snap* didn’t pop). The stronger ones will just make your life easier.

That said, here are some clips of two of our successes:

More Easter Fun:

If you’d like to make some beautiful decorative eggs that any book-lover would adore, check out these Book Page Eggs.

If you’d like to learn more about the origin of Easter, check out this article.

How did you celebrate Easter this year? Do you have a favorite Easter tradition?

TWEETABLES:

If Christ is not raised, your faith is futile & you are still in your sins. 1Cor15:17 – Click to Tweet!

Fun Easter Egg-tivities for kids! – Click to Tweet! 

Becoming A Writer

Although I realized at a young age that my brain worked very differently from others, it took me a surprisingly long time to figure out that I was a writer.

In hindsight I can see the clues.

Paper Clues

In the 4th or 5th Grade I entered a poetry contest with the theme “Where The Sidewalk Ends.”  (As an adult and fan of Shel Silverstein, I assume the contest had something to do with him, but at the time I only knew it as the theme for a contest my teacher talked about.) My entry didn’t win… anything… but my mom was so impressed with my poem that she took it to her college English professor who, according to my mom, was “very impressed” with my talent for my age. It was a VERY big deal for me that my mom and her teacher thought I was talented.

where-the-sidewalk-ends

Still, I didn’t consider myself a writer, and other than jotting nonsense in my lock-and-key diary that anyone could have picked with a toothpick, I wasn’t writing anything more than the assignments given to me by my teachers.

Then in the 6th grade I wrote a few opinion articles for my school’s newspaper condemning stereotyping, cliques & bullies, and other social ills I was very concerned with.

Soap Box Opinion

I remember showing the work to my English teacher who was very encouraging, and I even worked up the nerve to actually submit one essay to the paper. Anonymously. Yes, they printed it.

In the 8th grade I hated my English teacher. She was evil, as far as my 8th grade self was concerned. I am not exaggerating when I say that 70% of her class was failing at the 3rd quarter. She played favorites and it showed in her grading. You were either an A+ student or an F student in her class. I didn’t do myself any favors when I decided that I would “show her” by not even bothering to turn in most of my assignments. Yeah. That really hurt her. (Note the heavy sarcasm.) The ironic thing was that I actually completed most of my assignments. I enjoyed reading and writing and was even writing short scary stories for fun and trying to get my friends to create a scary story club with me.

scare-ghost-800px

I had simply stopped turning my assignments in once I figured out my grades didn’t reflect my writing, but the fact that I wasn’t one of her favorites. The only F’s I ever got in my entire school career were in her class. Fortunately, my mother talked some sense into me in the final quarter and I squeaked out a D so I wouldn’t be held back a grade. Two years later I was scoring A’s and B’s in Honor’s English, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Although I enjoyed writing, I never thought of myself as a writer. Nor did I ever consider a career as a writer. Writing was just a hobby. That is, until one night in the summer after 9th grade when I woke up at about 4am in the morning with an idea for a novel in my head.

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Although by then I was a pretty prolific poetry writer in my spare time and occasionally wrote what I would call “vignettes” for fun, I had never even considered writing a novel. It just didn’t occur to me. Yet that night, or rather morning, I woke up and without a moment’s hesitation, grabbed a pen and a notebook, and started writing out the bones of a plot, complete with fleshed out characters.

From that point on I wrote regularly. When my family went on a two week road trip a few days after inspiration struck, I took a couple legal pads and several pencils along for the ride.

notepad-411030_1280

While my sister clicked away on our green-screen Gameboys, I was hunched over my notepad scribbling. Most of the first chapters for that first novel were written out long-hand on the bumpy roads through the western half of the United States.

While I worked on that first novel, I also began writing other, shorter stories, with a higher frequency. My 9th grade English teacher, for whom I was later a Teacher’s Assistant, was the frequent first audience for most of my writing during my high school years. The man should be given a medal. It took me years to recognize those first writings for the rubbish they were, yet he was nothing but patient and encouraging.

In college I recognized the story for the disaster it was and threw out that entire first novel.

recycle-296463_1280

However, all that writing wasn’t a waste. Through it all, I was learning, growing, and becoming a better writer.

Your Turn!

Can you relate to my story? What were your teachers/mentors like? Are you a writer? When did you know you were a writer?  Please share your story with me. I love hearing from my readers! 🙂


Don’t forget to ENTER TO WIN one of the fun prizes in my 2015 Books & Swag Christmas Giveaway! 😀

2015 Books & Swag Christmas Giveaway - ENTER NOW

How I Solved My Biggest Writing Challenge

Method to My Madness Graphic

As the mother of three young boys, noise and chaos are simply a part of everyday life. I realize that now, though it was a struggle to accept at first.

Up until I had my own children I had never had any trouble finding some alone time in a quiet place to do my writing. It had been as much a given as oxygen in the air. Then along came one baby, then two, then three… and suddenly I didn’t have a moment to spare or a quiet corner to hide write in.

faire-du-potin-800px

My first reaction was that my writing career would simply have to wait until my children had grown up. I quit writing for several months…. and found myself utterly and completely miserable. I loved being a mother, but writing is as much a part of me as my brown eyes. Without it, I felt incomplete. There had to be another solution.

sadmother-800px

After a long heart to heart, my husband and I came up with an arrangement whereby I could go out of our 750 sqft apartment by myself, once a week for up to 6 hours at a time. The plan was that I would leave as soon as he was done with work and go find somewhere to sit and write. The problem was finding a place I could do that.

Tuning out the sounds around me to focus on a book that I was reading was a gift I’d enjoyed since childhood. Yet for some reason, doing the same thing during my own creative process seemed impossible.

Sure, I could go to the library, but our closest library closed less than two hours after my husband got home and it would often take me almost 45 minutes just to set up and switch mental gears from mom to writer. Then when the library closed I’d have to pack up again, switch locations, and try to get back in the creative groove. It was very inefficient.

Sorry-Closed-Sign-800px

So I looked to other places, but for some reason there aren’t any businesses that are willing to shush their other patrons so the writers camping out in the back corner can get some work done. Which left me with a very similar problem to the one I faced at home:  nowhere quiet to write.

Quiet Writer at Work!

I tried several places over time:  sitting in my car, coffee shops, fast food joints, and bookstores. They all had their downsides:  no power outlet or bathroom, noisy machines, blaring televisions, too many people talking, and not enough chairs, to name a few.

Still I refused to give up and something strange happened over time:  I learned to tune out the noise.

It was like magic.

One day I was grumbling under my breath and packing my things because yet another group of rowdy teenagers had horned in on my corner of the McDonald’s, and just a few days later, I glanced up from my work to realize every table around me was filled with customers having conversations yet I hadn’t heard a word until just that moment.

Of course, I knew it wasn’t magic. God had blessed my perseverance. Not only could I tune out the majority of the noise, but I’d learned the skill of revving up my creative juices faster than ever. No longer did I need 45 minutes to get into the flow of things.

As time went on I continued to get faster. These days I typically write in my new home office, but on those days when staying home just doesn’t cut it, I can arrive almost anywhere, set up my laptop, and be typing away in under 10 minutes.

God is good.

Happy-Girl-Writing

How My Brain Isn’t Normal

Gear-brain-with dialogue tags

It might surprise you to know that writing isn’t something I chose to do. Rather, I believe it’s a part of who God made me.

I have known for many, many years now that I am odd. No really. There is something very different about how my brain works and I have a very vivid recollection of the exact moment when I realized that I was not normal.

I am sitting in the backseat of our family car. It’s dark out and we are at an intersection near my elementary school. I don’t remember where we are going or exactly how old I am, but I remember a moment when it occurred to me to ask my parents a question I’d never thought of before:

“When you hear other people talk, do you add on things like ‘he said thoughtfully’ or ‘she shouted’ in your mind?” (Sidenote:  Yes, I know these are terrible dialogue tags. Give me a break, my age was still in the single digits here.)

To their credit, my parents do not look at me as if I’ve lost my mind, but they certainly appear surprised as they answer that they do not think that way. Then I ask:

“Do you rewrite what you say or what other people say in your head over and over until it sounds right?”

“Umm, no.”

“Oh.”

And that was it. That was the moment I knew my brain worked very differently from everyone else’s.

Method to My Madness – Historical Research Note Tracking

Method to My Madness Graphic

One of the most time consuming, rewarding, and frustrating parts of writing historical fiction is doing the historical research.

It’s time consuming because, well, as an avid history fan I can easily find myself playing the role of Alice following the white rabbit down the proverbial hole and somehow find myself hours later reading about some random part of history which, while absolutely fascinating, has nothing to do with my work in progress or the purpose for which I first consulted the text.

It’s rewarding because I get to learn fascinating new parts of history that they don’t have time to teach about in school. Like how one of our local gold rush towns got its name and that the man it was named after moved away about 2 years later and never moved back. In fact, he didn’t even return for a visit for 18 years and he wound up running a hotel on the California coast 26 years later, and did you know there was a horse named after him and….. Yes, you caught me. None of that has anything to do with my current works in progress. This is a tidbit I picked up in one of those rabbit holes.

ryanlerch-The-White-Rabbit-300px

Where was I? Oh, right….

Historical research can also be very frustrating. Not only because of those pesky rabbit holes, but because it can be rather difficult keeping track of everything you read and where you read it. Picture me scratching my head trying to remember which library, which section of that library, which book title, which chapter, and on which page I found that particular fact about Julian’s jail once housing the only public toilet months after I actually read about it. (In this case it wasn’t even a book, it was a website.)

In response, I’ve begun collecting pages and pages of copies of books and articles and websites in addition to an increasing number of books for my personal reference shelf. Now, I do have a particular system for keeping track of all of those items…. no really, I do…. okay so it’s not exactly perfected but…. that’s not what I want to talk about right now. Right now what I want to share with you is how I track the relevant information within those items.

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When I reference a note, I’m usually looking for something in particular, so if all I did was highlight everything interesting in yellow, I’d never be able to find anything. I have many different categories of notes including things like notes about food resources, people born/married/died, places built/destroyed/expanded, important events, etc.  So if I were instead to give every category of notes a different color, you can imagine that I would run out of highlighter colors rather quickly. Ask me how I know.

Then it hit me. This was a familiar problem.

If you are familiar with the method of inductive bible study, then you may be familiar with the concept of creating a unique symbol for each important word or recurring theme. These symbols are used to mark up the text with the idea being to slow your reading down and help you engage with the text as you extrapolate its meaning. I have been using this off and on for years in my personal study of the Bible.  However, I can’t stand the idea of actually marking up my Bible, so instead I print out sections at a time and work with that. It also allows me to create really wide margins which provide room for a little creative journaling while I’m at it.

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So what does this have to do with my historical research? Well, I’ve developed similar symbols for each of the categories I want to easily find in my notes. Now as I am reading, I just highlight in yellow all the stuff I think I might want to refer back to later and add the category symbol in the outer margins.  This way I’m not constantly searching for and switching out different colored highlighters, and when I want to find notes in a particular category, I just flip through and scan the edges of the pages. Oh, and I keep a key to my symbols at the front of any texts. If it’s a copy of a library book page, I’ll staple a blank page to the front and make my key there. That way if I forget what symbol I used for a particular category, I have a quick cheat sheet. I also keep a photograph on my cell phone showing all my most frequently used symbols so that I can be as consistent as possible from text to text.

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I still cringe when marking in a book and it’s not perfect, but it works for me.

Your Turn!

A lot of people do research for their work or school. What do you think of my technique? I’d love to hear if you have any other tips or techniques you use to do research!