My Nuclear Freak-out

Blogging has been tough lately. I usually blog about what’s on my mind, but lately what’s on my mind has been a series of secrets. Yep, stuff I can’t share. So, with those things so consuming my thoughts, my mind’s drawn a big fat zilch when it comes to blog ideas.

But, last night on Facebook secret #1 went public.

There are many questions that plague mankind—whether the chicken or the egg came first, whether Adam and Eve had belly buttons, how the fourth season of Arrested Development could suck that bad.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve had an answer to one profound question: How would I react, if say, my daughter got engaged a couple weeks before her high school graduation?

Now I know.

I totally freak out. Not on the outside, on the inside. On the outside I’m calm. On the inside I’m Ivy Mike (the codename given to the first full-scale test of a fusion nuclear bomb). Ivy Mike vaporized an island. Wiped it off the face of the Earth. Not literally because it probably ended up in the upper atmosphere and fell as rain all over the world. Kind of poetic in a sick, destructive kind of way.

The end.

I know that’s no way to end a blog post. There’s no closure, but that’s how it is. I don’t have grand advice. No epiphanies. I’m still kind of freaking out, but I’m trying to do it in a supportive and encouraging fashion.

Maybe by the time I post next, secret #2 will have gone public too.

Health Talks with Nurse Irene: Providing Help for Marginalized Women

Some news stories are so horrific that you just can’t let them go. One in particular has stayed with me—The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia–women drugged, stolen from their homes in the night, raped, then returned to their beds. And this is just one of the many struggles facing the women in the Mennonite colonies in Bolivia.

These are women without a voice, considered more property than people. Because of a language barrier (they speak Low German in a Spanish speaking country) and the control the men in the colony exert, they have limited access to health care or even to basic health information. Can you imagine not understanding the impact simple hand washing can have on your health and the health of your children? Can you imagine watching your sick child suffer and having no understanding of how to help them?

As a mother, a wife, a woman my heart aches for them, which is why I want to share Irene Marsch’s story, in her own words, with you. Can one person make a difference? Read on and find out.

 

“Health Talks with Nurse Irene”

By Irene Marsch

 Where did it all start?

I call it: “A big God, taking Irene size steps.” It’s a way of remembering that God is walking with me.Irene2

After my husband’s passing, I hurt. I felt very alone. I was searching. It seemed like everyone else around me knew what the role of a widow was. But I was confused. I felt lost and I asked, Lord what now?

In my search, I signed up for the Women Alive Conference in Toronto. Weeks before the conference, I woke one night and the first thought that came to mind was, “For such a time as this.” I remember thinking, it was from the book of Esther and then I went back to sleep. My first thought waking up that morning was again, “For such a time as this.” I went about making breakfast and again the words rang in my head, “For such a time as this.”

In my walk with the Lord, I have come to learn, that when I get three nudges, I drop what I’m doing and go. Make that phone call. Write that note or lookup that Bible verse. And that is what I did. I read the account of Uncle Mordecai telling his niece Esther that this was a special time and God had a special purpose in sending her to the king’s palace. God called Queen Esther to step out, to step up, and to speak out on behalf of her people. I brushed it away and said, “There is just nothing royal about widowhood!” And I left it at that.

Irene3When I finally got to go to the conference, the guest speaker stood before us and revealed her theme verse? I couldn’t believe it. The verse from Esther. “For such a time as this.” To say the least, I was crushed. In my mind I shouted, “Can I not get away from this Bible verse?”

Apparently not. By the afternoon I was participating in a brief exercise on seeking God’s will through a simple questionnaire.

Who am I? Well, Irene a widow, I answered.

What are your gifts? Nursing, caregiver, organizer.

What is unique about you? I speak Low German, some Spanish, German, English.

It was into this noise of questions, that I remembered the Low German Ministry at FLN. (Family Life Network) I came home from the conference, trying very hard to push it all out of my mind, but that did not work. I finally said, “Okay, I will dust off my resume!” AfterIrene4 receiving some much needed help with my resume, I sent it off to FLN. This was the beginning of “Health Talks with Nurse Irene”.

There are many more moments of “A big God, taking Irene size steps” that have given me affirmation along the way. A week or so before I left for Bolivia, Claude Pratte saw me at church, probably sensing my apprehension, he said, “You will see that God, has gone ahead of you.” A day or two after my arrival in Bolivia I received an invitation to be part of the Women of Hope office in the Santa Cruz market area. Claude’s words, “You will see God has gone ahead of you,” made it easy for me to say yes. I thanked the Lord once again for being a big God, taking Irene size steps .

Every week I spent two to three days at this office, two days at the Women’s Shelter, and reserved one day for Women’s Ministry in the Mennonite Irene5Colonies. It was during the last week, before returning to Canada, that one lady approached me and said, “Can you come to our colony and do one of those Health Talks. I don’t know what to say to you. There could be two or 102 women.”

I had a hard time deciding, but then I was able to say, “Yes Lord, I will go for the sake of two.” When we got there, there were closer to a 102 women. Once again, a big God taking Irene size steps. I encouraged the ladies to stop me and ask question, but no one did, because they were so shy. So I offered to have a few one-on-one conversations and immediately a long line-up formed. The sun was going down and we needed to get out of the colony. It was during these last minutes that a couple of ladies came and asked, if I would record my talk on hormones and send it to them, so that they could give it to other ladies. I’d never considered recording my talks until that moment. After that conversation I approached FLN with the idea of making CDs to send to the woman. They offered me a radio program as well as the opportunity to make the requested CDs.

I spent six months in Bolivia on my missions assignment with the E-Free Mission. It was a very good and very necessary experience for me to learn firsthand about the health needs in Bolivia.Irene6

I’m pleased to say that the CD on hormones and one on STDs have been completed. The second CD, the one on STDs, I found very difficult to do—such a forbidden topic. On this CD I covered eight of the most common STD Health Issues. Each track has some scripture verses on marriage. I share a few thoughts or tell a short story out of my marriage to Roland and a short prayer. I know these people love to learn from personal stories.

Another, A big God, taking Irene size steps is the morning I was invited by FLN to talk about whether I would consider another year of “Health Talks with Nurse Irene” on the radio. In my mind, I was ready to listen and decide later, until I had my morning devotions and read the following verse: “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Revelation 3:8) I was shocked by the direct words and the timing. The second phrase, “I know that you have little strength,” touched me deeply. God knows my weakness and he given me an open door.

Irene1Yes, there is much work ahead, but a Big God, continues to take Irene size steps. It is affirming, humbling and even scary, how the Lord is there just at the right time—like when it was time to pay for the cost of making the CDs at FLN and our church came through and took care of that cost. And when I received four invitations into the Colonies for Health Talk Sessions on my Follow-up visit and an invitation to use the same office in the Santa Cruz Market area, where I’LL have a chance to meet women from remote and closed Mennonite Colonies.

In spite of our weakness, God chooses to do his work through us. May it be an encouragement to all of us, that A Big God is taking our size steps, to be at our side in our everyday life! Thank you.

On May 14 Irene leaves for Bolivia with 600 CDs in tow!

 

Into the Elements: A Creative Writing Workshop with Donald Miller

IMG_7337Join me this Sunday, April 27th in the North Kildonan MB church library at 1315 Gateway Rd. from 9:30 to 10:30 am. I’m facilitating the video series Into The Elements, a creative writing workshop taught by author, Donald Miller. The cost is free and no registration necessary.  Here’s more info:

Into the Elements: A writing workshop with best-selling author Donald Miller

Public speakers, novelists, screenwriters, teachers, biographers, journalists, memoirists, essayists and communicators of any sort are invited Into the Elements.Bluelike

Donald Miller delivers four lectures on the art of story, showing any communicator how to translate their ideas into stories that readers, viewers and listeners can’t turn away from.

In this four session series you will learn:
• Use the elements of story to keep an audience interested in your lecture.
• Keep a reader interested on every page of your novel.
• Learn the techniques for creating the beginning, middle, and end of your story.
• Learn to plot the story-arc before you ever write a word of your novel.
• Understand how “The Story Question” is the heart of every story.
• Create stories that are exciting, provocative and meaningful. See More

 

No Name Novel

I’m terrible at naming my novels. While some have names for their manuscripts before they noname1 even open a new Word document, I finish them and go through umpteen edits before settling on a name. My first manuscript has gone through four different names and now I’ve gone back to the third.

My eighth novel was originally called Assimilation until its final chapters when I came up with the most awesome name ever. Maybe my book naming woes were over. I was so proud of myself. This was a gooder. It matched the theme and had a deeper meaning that the reader would only catch after reading the book. I called it The Lilith Strain.

noname3It was great until I said it aloud. Go ahead. Say it aloud. Tongue get all tied up and twisted? Mine did. Say it three times fast—The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain, The Lilith Strain. Okay, that name had to go. So, now it’s called The Miller’s Daughter, a title I’m not enthusiastic about, so it probably won’t stick either.

I struggled to name my children too. I was more concerned about the meaning of the name and that it didn’t rhyme with any body parts than the actual name. I mean, how could I give my child a moniker that meant smelly haired (Brendan)? My daughter’s name means lion of God. It’s a good strong meaning and nonamesince she bit the doctor on the way out and, in my Demerol induced stupor, I imagined she had a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, it seemed the perfect name

I’m days away from finishing my ninth novel. And it has no title. I’ve tried out several names, but none are quite right. For now I’m calling it the No Name Novel. Catchy isn’t it? Doesn’t that just make you want to grab it off the shelf and take it home?

Obsessive Editing

Just one more edit. Just one more teensy edit. That seems to be my mantra lately. I picasso2contacted a friend who was about to read my manuscript and asked her to delete it because I wanted to edit it one more time. Not a huge edit; I just came off one of those. Just a little edit. A once over to see if the last edit did it’s job. Hmmm. There is such a thing as over-editing, over-thinking and, dare I say, obsessing.

There’s a story told about Picasso and how he would sell his paintings, then buy them back because he, probably after obsessing for awhile, would determine that the painting wasn’t quite done. I don’t know if the story is truth or legend, but I totally understand why an artist would do that.

How I feel every time I send something out.

How I feel every time I send something out.

As I’ve considered my work over the years, it’s clear that I’m a better writer now than I was when I started and I’ll, hopefully, be better in ten years than I am now. Will I look back on my 2014 work and shake my head, be embarrassed at my writing? Since nothing is ever perfect, I’m sure I will. Whenever I send anything off, whether it be to a beta reader, agent, or editor, I get this sense of anxiety. There is a finality to it. Their image of me as an author and my writing will be formed around the piece of work I’ve sent them–AS IS. As exciting as it is to have people read my work, it’s also terrifying. And so, I edit.

I’m editing the piece I have for probably the 25th time. Deep sigh. It’s probably time to stop.

Personal Value Measured in Dollars

I’ve been thinking about worth a lot lately. What is my work worth? I can tell you from a aaa2monetary standpoint it’s a big fat ZERO.

I don’t get paid for caring for my family and I get paid very, VERY little for my writing. I just earned two figures from a short story I sold. Yeah, that’s right. I might be able to indulge in a haircut. Don’t be jealous.

I won’t go into what the hourly wage would. Let’s just say, right now I’d be thrilled to earn minimum wage.

While I know that just because an endeavour doesn’t pay money doesn’t mean it’s worthless, it can feel worthless especially considering the need to pay mortgage payments, buy food, and having a child dangerously close to requiring post-secondary education.

March 2014 has been a deadline for me. This is the month I have to apply for my medical aaaradiology program and I have to decide if I’m still going through with it. Completing this program is almost a guarantee of a pay check—actual money. Gasp. But, I’ve lost my zeal for it. I know I could do it and do it well. But, the writing is a siren singing my name.

I’m reminded of the movie, The Never Ending Story. The boy is told to stop dreaming and get his feet on the ground. That’s what I feel I’m being told, not by any person in my life, but by my own sense of responsibility. I’m torn in two: the sky or the ground. The sky seems a lot more appealing.aaa1

Right now, I’m stuck. I don’t know quite what to do, so I’m praying and waiting a little longer. And wondering, if writing is my path, how to get over the feelings of worthlessness that come with not being able to contribute financially to my family. Maybe that’s my biggest hurdle—not which path, I think I may know that already, but how to feel valuable in the midst of it.

Educate Girls, Change the World

girlrising4Tuesday, the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival kicked-off with the documentary, Girl Rising. The film takes us on a journey around the world, from Peru to Egypt, Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, to hear the stories of nine girls and their struggle for education. The film’s mission is to share a simple fact with the world: that educating girls can transform societies.

The filmmakers paired each girl with an author from their own girlrising3country to tell their story. Each beautifully written story, told from the individual girl’s point of view, had a unique voice and style. It plunged the viewer into the girl’s life, her family, and her culture.

girlrising2I expected heartbreak when I entered the theatre and I got it. Did you know that the leading cause of death for girls aged 14-18 around the world is childbirth? That blew me away. But what I didn’t expect was the hopefulness—the grin of a spunky Haitian girl who refused to let anyone tell her she couldn’t go to school, the courage of a twelve-year-old rape victim who called herself a superhero, an eleven-year-old mother determined to continue her education. Each of these girls was strong, resilient, and hopeful. They wanted to get an education so they could change their worlds.

girlrising5This documentary is a must-see. I walked away with a better understanding of the impact educating girls can have on poverty, child marriage, and family and community health. This is a cause worth fighting for.

If you’re a Winnipegger make some time this weekend to come out to the film festival and catch Girl Rising, showing Friday, February 21 at 8:30 pm and Saturday, February 22 at 6:30.

Death, Questions, and Reflection

IMG_5013Death always causes us to question and reflect. What am I doing for others?

That’s the question I’m left with after my grandmother’s memorial. During the sharing time, her friends and family shared over and over about how much she gave of herself for them. One friend asked everyone to raise their hand if they’d received a hand-made gift from her. Most of the mourners put up their hands.

She left a legacy of care and love that won’t soon be forgotten. It made me question, what kind of legacy am I leaving?

My grandmother was a gifted painter and quilter. Everyone in my house sleeps under IMG_5058quilts she made. But, how can I use the things I can do for the betterment of others?

How can I use my writing to lift others up? I’m really not sure at this point. I’ve been keeping my eyes open and I’m hoping that if I’m searching, an opportunity will find me.

Querying: Almost as Fun as Childbirth

I’ve started querying agents again.

I feel a little like those purple minions from Despicable me 2.minion

I sent out a handful of queries last fall which resulted in a delightful collage of form rejection letters which left me feeling a little battered and bruised. die hard

I know some writers love this. They’re like, “Dude, I got another rejection letter. It means I’m real writer!” If you suffer this delusion, excellent! You’ve found a way of framing rejection positively. Stop reading now. I don’t want to ruin that because I wish I had the same Pollyanna attitude as you.pollyana

I, however, think that’s a big fat pile of poo. Anyone can get a rejection letter. Anyone. If my gerbils could hit the send button on an email, they too could get a rejection letter.

Those of you who contend it’s evidence that you’re putting yourself out there and taking a risk as a writer—that I’ll subscribe to. I need to submit, but I’ve come to associate querying with pain. Did you know that the part of the brain that processes pain is the same part that processes rejection? Indeed. Rejection is painful. So right now, I feel like I’m nine months pregnant. I need to get this baby out of me (aka my manuscript), but the only way to do that is to go through twelve hours of the worst pain known to man. Unfortunately, there are no epidurals for rejections.

I'm smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

I’m smiling because the guy behind me is the anesthetist.

Hey, and as I write this, the first rejection came in, just a couple hours after I sent the query. It was a personal note, which I always appreciate. She’s not interested in YA sci-fi. Deep breath. Move on.

How to Start Your First Book

Back in November when I was at ComicCon, promoting the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, I encountered a lot of new writers and pre-writers (those that want to write, but haven’t started yet). One question came at me over and over. “How do I start?”

Today I’m here to tell you, in very simple terms, how to start.

1.  Write one paragraph describing what your story is about. Just one paragraph, so you know where you’re headed. Keep it simple and open.hiroshima

Three genius brothers stumble upon a means of time travel and accidentally transport themselves to Hiroshima, Japan on July 31, 1945. They have a week before the bomb is dropped to figure out how to get themselves back home.

This paragraph helps you to anchor yourself and keep your story on track. It gives us a loose structure. We know we need three brothers. We know our setting—initially the present and then World War II Japan.

 2.  Decide on a protagonist—your lead character. You will tell the story from their point of view (POV). Notice that the word “character” is not plural. You want to tell the story from five different perspectives? Too bad. This is your first book. My children are pianists—they started with Hot Cross Buns, not Bach’s Piano Concerto #7 and so you start with one protagonist.

But how do you choose? Which time travel brother should be my protagonist? My protagonist should be the character that undergoes the most change. The change could be physical, emotional, spiritual, ideological.

For my time travel boys I’m going to choose the youngest of the three. He’s arrogant, thinks he’s smarter than his brothers, and risks their lives and the time-space continuum when he ventures out on his own. The other brothers will be secondary characters.

3.  What is your inciting incident? The inciting incident is the event that sparks the rest of your story. It’s the kick that gets the ball rolling. It doesn’t have to be a big kick, just one change that will, in the end, change your protagonist’s life. In the hunger games it was “the reaping.” In Twilight it was Bella moving in with her dad. In The Fault in Our Stars it was Hazel going to the support group. In Pride and Prejudice it was Mr. Bingley moving into town.

hiroshima 2In my time travel story the brothers get into a big fight and one of them gets shoved and trips over wires, short circuiting their experiment. Sparks fly and the next thing they know they’re in Japan.

4. Decide if you’re going to tell the story in first person or third person. In first person POV the story is told as though it’s your story. I tripped over the wires. I got transported back in time. First person is limiting in that the story has to be limited to what that person can personally know. He can’t know that his older brothers are scheming against him in the next room. Though it can be limiting, first person draws the reader directly into the head of the main character and gives the reader intimacy and a tighter bond with the protagonist. 

In third person the story is told from an outside POV. He tripped over the wires. He got transported back in time. Though, as a narrator, you could make yourself all-knowing, I still recommend sticking close to your protagonist so your reader can bond with him.

Now start writing. You know where your story begins. You know who you’re writing about. You know your setting. You know your main character and some of your secondary characters. You know who is telling your story.

Griff Karaplis got suspended for cloning the frog he was supposed to be dissecting in biology class. No great loss. His older brothers, Cal and Nate, had been stuck at home since they hacked into the Homeland Security main frame from the school computer lab and implicated Principal Skinner’s cat in a terrorist plot…

This is your rough draft. Don’t worry about Grammar and chapters and if your characters change part-way through. Just write. My first book has been through at least twenty drafts. This is not to discourage you, only to give yourself permission not to nit-pick. Set aside some time every week to write. Keep going and don’t give up.

Any questions? Leave a comment below.

For more on writing visit my children’s writers blog at www.vastimaginations.wordpress.com

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