Friday, March 23, 2007

The Great Plot Twist

The Great Plot Twist

Even though many artists are melancholy, and that can help drive the struggle to create and produce artistic work, I also need a strong infusion of JOY to keep me going. Wonder, awe, gratitude at new things I learn about God are all important fuel for the long hard work of writing.

But we humans have an enemy. A joy-thief. A fallen depraved angel set on stealing joy from God’s dear children in every way he can. And he uses any tools to do it. In the midst of the joy of fellowship and companionship, a friend’s off-hand comment leaves a slight sting. We are ready to move on. Yet the enemy grabs that dart and pushes it deep into our thoughts and twists it, hoping it will fester instead of glance off.

A word of thanks or commendation comes our way. One deep breath in to savor, grateful that our work touched someone. But before we can exhale, the enemy twists that gracious gift and whispers, “how are you going to live up to this?” And the joy becomes a heavy weight on the shoulders.

We rise from our knees, forgiven, refreshed from a time of worship and repentance. One of the most profound joys a human can feel. The prodigal son embraced in the Father’s arms. But before we walk too many steps forward into our new life, the enemy is there to whisper, “You’ve let Him down. How could He really love you?” He chants his old taunt, “Has God REALLY said?”

How cruel that so often our joy is snatched. Poisoned. Corrupted.

But then comes God’s great plot twist.

Because where our enemy can take beautiful joyous moments and mess them up a little – wrinkle and stain them—our God does something much more amazing.

He takes the deepest of pain, failure, discouragement – and births JOY in those places. Now THAT is power.

The other day, my husband and I worked on our taxes. One of my least favorite days of the year. We have completely different emotional responses to the choices that go into managing money – so on tax day we not only have to deal with the bleak state of our finances, we stare at each other in exasperation because we barely speak the same language. He produces amazing spreadsheets on Quicken and TurboTax, while I jot notes in pencil on a 3x5 card. But yesterday, I realized our teamwork has improved. After twenty-seven years of marriage, we’ve gotten better at some of these things. Our love is a wee bit bigger than the confusion and annoyance of sorting through receipts and confronting yet another tough year. Talk about a miracle. God lit a flicker of JOY in the midst of tax day. Joy that He’s our CEO, and joy that we’re getting better at the marriage adventure, and joy that all our kids were home and the house was full of chatter and laughter so that we were reminded that there is a worthwhile reason to deal with the tedious chores.

Of course, tax day isn’t the deepest of pain, failure, and discouragement (at least not quite). Maybe in coming days I’ll share the ways God created joy in truly joyless places – the roofless house attacked by hail, the dusty shoulder of the freeway with a blown head gasket. The emergency room, the detox center, the nursing home, the graveside.

But today I’m taking joy in the way God met my husband and I during tax day.

How about you? Have you seen one of God’s amazing plot twists recently? How has he turned mourning into dancing in your life? How has He given you the oil of gladness for the spirit of heaviness? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CSFF Blog Tour - Double Vision

Greetings, blog readers!

The photo shows Randy Ingermanson (on the right) signing some of his books at Mt. Hermon Christian Writer's Conference with co-author John Olson.

Each month that I participate in the CSFF blog tour, I try to think of a unique slant to bring to my post. I was delighted to see that Randy Ingermanson and Double Vision were to be featured this month.

You see, Randy was a key part of my writing journey.

Several years ago, when I began writing The Restorer, I was discouraged by chatter on writer’s loops. One woman told me emphatically that a new author can’t break in with fiction – (that was before I found the ACFW loop! LOL!) and that I should create a nonfiction speaking platform before trying to publish a nonfiction book (that’s what worked for her). Others said that really stellar fiction by a new author MIGHT find some interest, but certainly not if it’s speculative fiction - I should write a historical romance instead.

Bill, a member of my local writer’s group, had recommended some great spec-fic titles for me to read, including Transgression and Oxygen. When I shared at writer’s group about the input I had heard about the futility of the book I was writing, Bill said, “You know, I’ve exchanged some emails with the author, Randy Ingermanson. He seems very approachable and helpful. Maybe you could email and ask him about this.”

It took me a while to get up the nerve, and in the meantime, I finished writing my novel and found Mt. Hermon Writer’s Conference and made plans to attend.

Somewhere in there, I finally sent a rather shy, stammering email to Dr. Ingermanson.

I’ll never forget the power of his email response. He addressed what I’d been told about needing to do nonfiction with an emphatic, “no.” He assured me that it might take time and effort, but if I was called to write fiction, I should write fiction. He gave me terrific advice, and since he was on the faculty of Mt. Hermon, his encouragement was what helped me take the huge risk of bringing my proposal and submitting it. I think without his coaxing and direction, I would have chickened out on showing anyone my work.

He didn’t stop there. At the conference (where I knew absolutely NO ONE) he took time to introduce me to people, and each time he saw me he’d ask how things were going. He celebrated with me when an agent offered to represent me (fighting back his laughter when I asked, “don’t they just say that to everyone?” Um… no.) He interpreted a culture and language of CBA publishing that I was clueless about how to navigate.

He offered to read my first draft of the Restorer – and coached me to dig out my copy of Dwight Swain, clean up my MRUs (Motivation/Reaction Units), and analyze the scene/sequel flow of the story.

A few years later when I got my first contract offer, he emailed his congratulations, but added, “Don’t be surprised if in a few days you suddenly feel panic. Feel free to call if you need to talk it through.” What wisdom! He was absolutely right. My normal writer angst escalated to crazy levels as I thought about the road ahead.

I’m about to head to my fifth Mt. Hermon writer’s conference. Four years have passed since I met Randy at my first conference with my sweaty palms gripping that first manuscript, and I continue to be grateful for the support he offered at a crucial time in my writing journey.

What does this have to do with his awesome novel, Double Vision?

1. Randy has found a great way to mentor LOTS of writers at once. He produces a monthly ezine for writers – visit his website for details.

2. If you’re a writer and want to pick up some “Randy wisdom,” Double Vision is a great novel to read. First time through for the pleasure of it. Second time through to analyze the deft way he creates a character, sets a pace, and pulls us into the story world.

I’ve read every one of Randy’s novels and admired them all. Double Vision is one of my favorites. Every person who struggles to figure out the rules for “living like a normal person” while feeling like the normal world is a strange planet, will deeply engage with his character, Dillon. Other Christian Sci-fi Fantasy bloggers will be giving great reviews and descriptions about the book, so be sure to check those out for more details about the book (see the column on the right side of my blog for links).

Randy, thanks for your contribution to the world of Christian fiction – both through your novels and your generous support to new writers!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Last Photos from the North Woods

Monday: Tried a spur trail and part of the Superior Hiking trail, but the snow was deep and not very packed. We’d opted to go without snowshoes and used ski-poles as walking sticks. But every third or fourth step, we’d sink in to our thighs. It wasn’t long before we decided a sauna at the lodge was a better idea.

I’ve decided there is some kind of genetic coding that makes me feel at home along the Northwoods lakeshore. My dad and his ancestors were from the Baltic Sea coast. I’m not surprised so many Scandinavians settled here in Minnesota – or in my family’s case – Latvian/Russian/Germans. Forests of birch and pine, snow, wide dark waters, sunlight in a searing blue sky, woodsmoke rising from the fireplace . . . and yes, even the pickled herring for breakfast made me feel a sense of belonging.

Tuesday: Hiked a section of the Superior Hiking trail. Snowpacked footpaths through birches led us into complete solitude. We spotted a bald eagle (see second photo - the eagle is peeking out) and watched it take to its nest. Near a half-frozen waterfall, we found a box where other hikers signed in with brief messages in a notebook. We read a few entries and discovered one signed by Becky Miller! That’s right, my dear character had hiked this same trail only a few weeks earlier. And people wonder why my characters feel so real to me. :-)

Sharon Hinck

Thursday, March 15, 2007

More from the North Shore

Sunday: Watched the sunrise over Lake Superior, then drove randomly through town until we found a church with services beginning in five minutes. We slipped in the door and found a pew, relaxing into the contemporary worship. All over the world, the body of Christ brings Him worship – sometimes floundering, sometimes awkward, sometimes slightly out of tune. And because God sees us as the pure, redeemed Bride, He takes joy in that worship and finds it beautiful. I felt God’s tender joy over that small gathering. The children who galloped forward for the children’s sermon, the list of events hosted by the church that week –I was delighted to see two different book groups and a writer’s group, along with Bible studies, support groups, mission guilds—the prayers of the church joining with brothers and sisters around the globe.

As we drove north, we stopped to admire ice floes along a stretch of shoreline. Foot-thick chucks of ice were tossed into huge piles by waves and wind, and in the sunlight, glowed with blue light.

More photos tomorrow! Aren't vacations awesome?
Sharon Hinck

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Sunny Beach - Minnesota style

Notes from our getaway.

Last Saturday:

I confess. After five months of winter, I was coveting my friend Julie (author of Chocolate Beach) and her California beach life.

But who says Minnesota doesn’t have sandy beaches? Ted and I took a long hike along the shore of Lake Superior. If we squinted and looked only in certain spots, we could ignore the snowdrifts and ice floes and enjoy the sun and sand. (No, those aren't frothy waves, or foam - it's ice and snow).

At sunset, we sat and watched long blue shadows stretch out over the ice, as they crept out to find the open water far beyond the horizon. Someone put a dimmer switch on the sky, and it faded slowly through a range of pinks and dove-grays.

Nevermind that we were bundled in polar fleece and scarves and mittens - the expanse of shoreline and water spoke to my heart and reminded me of peace. More tomorrow (including amazing ice-floe photos!)


God as my Restorer

God as my Restorer

While on a long weekend getaway, I was catching up on my homework for a Bible study at church and came to Deuteronomy chapter 30. I had just told my husband that I feel like I’ve lost part of who God made me to be. I’ve been exhausted, confused, unfocused – some of the passion for Him that has always burned hot inside me has felt fragmented, like a campfire kicked and scattered. In that place of need, I read Deuteronomy 30:1-3.

“When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will RESTORE your fortunes, and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.”

To read about God gathering His nation Israel after they have been scattered, helped me believe He could gather the stray pieces of me from all the places I’ve dispersed them. And because I’m preparing for the release of the novel that is so dear to my heart, “The Restorer,” I sat up and gasped when I came across the word “restore,” in my reading for the day.

Then, in that wonderful way that God often reinforces something He’s speaking to my heart, the next day Ted and I read Psalm 71 as our sunrise prayer. We read a psalm for the calendar date (Psalm one on the first of the month, etc.) and this was our third month of the cycle (add 60 days to the date) and the 11th day in . . . so Psalm 71 was our scheduled Psalm.

Psalm 71:19-21
“Your righteousness reaches to the skies, O God, you who have done great things. Who, O God, is like you? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will RESTORE my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.”

Can I get an Amen?

In the next few days, I’ll blog some of the photos from our weekend getaway, including ice floes and a bald eagle’s nest. In the meantime, I pray that whatever wounds you carry today, that God will RESTORE your soul and lead you in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. (Psalm 23 is another great scripture on the theme of God as our Restorer.)

Sharon Hinck

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Hijacked Thoughts

The book of Corinthians tells us to take every thought captive.
But some days...

Hijacked Thoughts

Today my thoughts are teenagers
sneaking out after curfew
tasting new drinks
bitter yet intoxicating.

My worries crowd into a car
where loud voices overlap
The driver is a stranger
who weaves across the lanes.

My mind has been hijacked
and rides into dangerous alleys.

Lord, pull me from this car.

Take my hand and walk with me
to streets where children's swing sets
rest in the moonlight
while Bach pours from open windows.

Rescue me from myself.
Sit beside me near the sandbox.

So when the sun comes up tomorrow, I can play again.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Chat with Julie Carobini

I met Julie at Mt. Hermon writer's conference last year, and she is as sweet as the chocolate brownies she writes about so vividly. So I'm delighted to chat with her today about her debut novel.

(That's Julie and her mom in the photo on their visits to California bookstores - where they spotted a display of Renovating Becky Miller with Chocolate Beach - our two new novels.)

Hi, Julie!
Thanks for visiting my corner of the blogosphere and letting me kick off my snow boots and dig my toes into the sandy beaches of your world. ☺You’ve done a lot of writing, but this is your debut novel. What has been the most surprising discovery about the process and experience of coming out with your first novel?

Julie says: Hi Sharon! Okay, one of the most surprising discoveries about this process is that I could finish an entire book. LOL! Seriously, about 2/3 of the way through I found so many pieces strewn about that I worried I wouldn’t be able to bind them together into something presentable. Thanks to God I did ☺ As far as its release, I thought it would come out and I’d be too busy writing the next one to be that involved. What planet was I on? So I guess you could say I was surprised by how busy I’ve been letting people know that my baby has arrived.

How about you Sharon? With a second book out (Renovating Becky Miller), what have you done differently, if anything, from the first go at it?

Sharon says: I’ve watched other authors a LOT this year – viewing all the options for ways that writers are involved in their book’s releases. I have friends who want to put every ounce of energy into writing, so they purposefully don’t pursue book signings, visiting stores, arranging interviews, etc. I have other friends who invest huge amounts of time in speaking to various groups, traveling, seeking media exposure. I’ve tested the waters – organized book launch events, participated in multi-author signings, spoken to groups of various sizes and types, participated in blog tours, produce a monthly ezine (folks can sign up for it on the “contact Sharon” page of my website) and have done numerous media interviews.

I enjoy people. I love to answer questions and interact and chat about the themes of the books. I like knowing that I’m doing my part to support my publishing house in getting the word out. But on the other hand, those efforts DO drain my energy sometimes. So, I’m still grappling with finding the right balance and protecting my writing time and energy. Ultimately, I feel like my calling is to produce the best, carefully crafted stories I can. So if speaking, traveling, interviewing, etc., keeps me from that, then I’m heading the wrong direction.

Now, let me ask you about your wonderful character. I enjoyed getting to know Bri, because she felt like a different end of the spectrum from Becky Miller. Becky is incredibly driven and guilt-ridden. Bri may struggle with guilt or worry about her marriage, her parenting, her faith walk…BUT she has a deep ability to kick back and enjoy beach time. I think Becky needs to spend some time in flip-flops watching the dolphins with Bri. Do you have Bri’s carefree sensibilities? What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of her approach to life?

Julie says: I want to have Bri’s carefree sensibilities! When people began to suggest that this book was autobiographical, my 12 year old daughter said, “That’s not true, Mom! It says that Bri’s ‘laid-back’.” LOL Thanks kid! Bri’s strength is in her deep love for her family, and her desire to have a normal life, and yes, her pursuit of everyday kick-back moments. Her weakness, though, is in avoidance. She avoids what may be the truth, makes assumptions and ends up making questionable fixes. (Oh my.)

Becky Miller has a bit of a fixing problem herself, doesn’t she Sharon? ☺ Can you relate (I know I can)? On the flipside, what strengths really shine in Becky?

Sharon says: Oh, yeah. As I read about Bri hiring a designer to re-do her beach-side home, I thought of Becky’s efforts to remodel an old farm house….all while trying to fix problems at her church, with her friends, and most of all in the lives of her family. Men have the reputation of liking to solve and fix things – but we women are right in there, too. Yep, I relate to both our characters’ efforts to make things better—which sometimes goes cattywhampus.

As far as Becky’s strengths, she has a deep faith, a good-hearted desire to help others, and a lively imagination. And although she may charge ahead in the wrong direction sometimes, when God gets her attention, she’s willing to listen and change course.

Now, to change the subject, I have to comment on your awesome characterizations. I stuck a post-it in Chocolate Beach as I was reading this line:

“His mother shook my hand—or rather, she shook my fingertips. For someone with the reputation of a cutthroat, Mona’s handshake lacked finality. Maybe the weight of her diamond-studded tennis bracelet weighed her arm down.”

I adored that. A couple lines and we learn SO much.

Did you always love to write? And what are a few of your favorite recent reads?

For Julie's answer - and the rest of our conversation - click to her blog to continue! :-)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Are You the Next Restorer?

Four and a half years ago, I envisioned a middle-American mom (much like myself) plunged into the classic fish-out-of-water fantasy epic. This story premise has been done a million ways--but usually with a young male hero.

Could a female character take this "hero's journey?" I know the lives of my women friends - and they are the stuff of epic heroism. I was also inspired by the Biblical example of Deborah in the book of Judges. I believed that there was room for a different take on the genre.

What if Susan, a modern wife and mom of four, (whose biggest battle was arbitrating which of her kids got the biggest French fry) was pulled into a world waiting for a promised Restorer to save their people? And what if she had the signs they watched for? Her relationship skills, her experiences as a wife and mother, and most of all her deep and persistent faith - all brought a new color to the adventure palette.

This story grabbed me and wouldn't let go, and in fact, I wrote two more novels in the series - because I loved the characters so much.

The journey of this book coming to publication is its own adventure story of obstacles, battles, and allies...and most of all of the unfailing faithfulness of God.

At last, I'm delighted to announce that The Restorer is available to pre-order.
:-) Just click on this link:

Pre-order "The Restorer"

You'll be among the first to receive the book as it releases in May.
Come join the adventure!


Sharon Hinck