A Boost Up!

By Jackie Houchin

Boost up2“A boost up”….when someone holds their clasped hands together next to a horse, and you put your foot in like a stirrup, and they propel you upward into the saddle.

#

Sometimes a beginner (or lazy) writer needs a boost up into the writing saddle.  That’s where The Write Practice came into the picture for me. (I’m one of those lazy ones!)

The Write Practice

”If you want to become a better writer, you need to practice,” says Joe Bunting, creator of The Write Practice organization and blog. What’s involved? Fifteen minutes a day, five days a week, practicing with fresh writing prompts, unique lessons on technique, and getting feedback from a supportive community.

There are over 1000 practice exercises and lessons on the blog in such categories as; better writing, genre & format, characterization, grammar, journalism, plot & story, writers block, inspirational writing, publishing, and blogging. And it’s free.  http://thewritepractice.com/about/

I’ve attempted two lessons so far in the Short Story category. The first lesson was to read at least six short stories from the many magazine links supplied. The second lesson was to free-write for at least 15 minutes, post what you wrote in the comments section, read three of what other people wrote, and give them brief feedback.  Simple as that; practice writing and give feedback. It’s really the basis for everything Bunting does.

I wrote a short ditty on ‘Pig, Porcupine & Pineapple.’  It was totally fun!  Now to see with my fellow writers say about it

The Becoming Writer Community & Challenge

 If you are ready to go to the next level and start writing finished pieces (and get published), then the Becoming Writer community is the next step. Bunting compares this with what the “Inklings were for Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the expats in Paris were for Hemingway, and the Bloomsbury group was for Woolf.”

I discovered Becoming Writer because membership in it (yes, it does cost a little) was a requirement to submit to The Write Practice’s quarterly short story writing contest. But what you get with membership is a lot more than the contest.

Like the free practice lessons above, you share your writing with a community of writers to get and give feedback.  Actually giving feedback on another’s work helps you when it comes time to edit your own piece.

The Challenge is to write ONE piece EACH WEEK, submitted on Fridays.  It can be a short story, blog post, poem, essay, or a chapter in a book.  This is what us “lazy” writers call accountability.

And finally, besides actually finishing your pieces (Yay!), you get opportunities to submit to magazines like Short Fiction Break, Wordhaus and others.

The feedback on my first piece, an essay I wrote about Africa, brought a suggestion for submission to a specific online magazine. I submitted it and am waiting to hear.  http://thewritepractice.com/members/join

The Fall Contest

This is what caught my attention at first, a writing contest that promised cash prizes, free books, and publication. The theme was “Let’s Fall in Love.” Stories had to contain the two elements FALL and LOVE and be no longer than 1,500 words.  I told myself, “I can do that.”

The name “Autumn Gold” sprang to my mind and I quizzed my writer friends on Facebook as to how a girl with that name might look. The first answer – a stripper – caused me to cringe because that’s not what I had in mind. But when another person confirmed what he said, it left no doubt.

The story I eventually wrote keeps the title “Autumn Gold,” but the girl’s name is Audrey Gould.  I wrote an outline of sorts, showed it to a friend for her opinion, and then pounded out a story about LOVE that takes place in AUTUMN. It was 1,948 words. Lots of cuts and edits later, I submitted it to the Becoming Writer Contest community.

For the contest (548 entrants) the community is divided into ten groups, A–J, with about 40-50 writers in each. I landed in Group D. There are 46 of us, and we’ve become a close-knit group.

I’ve gotten about nine feedbacks on “Autumn Gold,” and I’ve given at least many more on other stories.  Some are VERY good! Others will need some work.  Reading my story’s feedback and the feedback on the other stories has opened my eyes to what works and what doesn’t, and what readers “get” from what you write, even if it’s not what you intended.

Invaluable!

I’m considering rewriting the ending and running it past them one more time. The final deadline to submit the story to the judges is September 4.

Other Programs

The Write Practice offers other programs for writers and authors on building a platform, publishing & marketing, Twitter, and the 100 Day Book challenge.  http://thewritepractice.com/products

#

Now I’m up in the saddle. I’m trotting around and loving it. I can’t wait to press my calves against my steed’s sides and rise into a canter.  I needed that boost up.  Do you?  Perhaps you should consider a writing community.

I suggest The Writing Practice. Take advantage of the discipline and the getting and giving of feedback.  Pick the lessons you are interested in and go for it. They are free! You might also consider Becoming Writer.

Or join a critique group and begin giving your work over to new eyes and opinions.

Get up there and get galloping!

###

Currently the Becoming Writer and the 100 Day Book programs are closed until next semester.  Future contests in Becoming Writer will be on Flash Fiction, Essay writing, Novels, and Poetry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Called to Please

Guest post by Rebecca Carey Lyles

becky Lyles

Write what pleases your readers?

While on my daily walk this morning, I listened to one of my favorite book-marketing podcasts. Although I’ve learned much from that audio show, I took exception to a statement made by today’s guest, who writes romance novels, thrillers and comedy. In addition to being versatile, she’s prolific and has sold thousands of eBooks. Obviously, she knows whereof she speaks. Even so, her suggestion that we write what pleases our readers didn’t quite jive with me.

My reluctance to accept her advice is partly due to being a faith-based author and partly due to the fact I’m old enough to be her mother. I realize more each day that life is short and my time on Planet Earth is limited. I want to leave a written legacy that deepens readers’ faith, enhances relationships, and inspires personal life-change as well as concern for others.

For a Christian author, writing for publication is a calling to use our God-given talent to honor him and draw others to him. Of course, I want to please readers. However, pleasing God should be my primary goal. Such a focus will enable me to compose stories that uplift, educate and challenge as well as entertain.

windsRomantic-suspense, peppered with frank reality

My romantic-suspense novels might attract a few readers similar to the above-mentioned readers. But difficult subjects like imprisonment and human trafficking will likely cause many who prefer a “lighter read” to turn away. Yet, I felt led to write about those important topics through a series of “serendipitous” events that precipitated each book in the Kate Neilson Series.

I’m currently conducting interviews and doing research for my next fiction series, which will feature individuals trapped in an abusive religious cult. Not exactly pleasant subject matter. Thanks to family members caught in a controlling group, I’ve learned that cult awareness is as crucial for Americans as is understanding the human-trafficking epidemic that plagues our country.

My part in disseminating truth about cults is to create an entertaining plot peopled by compelling characters who search for transformation and freedom in a beautiful mountain setting (only because I like mountains!). Just so you know, despite daunting themes and heartrending storylines, all my books have happy endings, even the nonfiction ones, It’s a God Thing! and On a Wing and a Prayer.

Passagways.A good story

 I might add that my writing is neither literary nor preachy (at least I try not to be preachy). I’ve penned short stories that entertain or make readers think but don’t overtly teach biblical truths (see Passageways)***. As Henry says in the movie The Book of Henry, “A good story will remind you of who you want to be.” All truth emanates from God’s Truth.

How do we live out our calling and write what God wants us to write? The same tools that help us know his will for other aspects of life are also useful for writing guidance. Prayer, Bible reading and study, Bible teaching, listening and responding to the Spirit’s nudges, wise counsel, inspirational books and music, intuition, contemplation, circumstances, confirmation, serendipitous moments—and peace when the right decision has been made.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Becky.Steve LylesBio

Rebecca Carey Lyles grew up in Wyoming, the setting for her Kate Neilson novels. She currently lives in Idaho, where she serves as an editor and as a mentor for aspiring authors. She’s also written two Colorado-based nonfiction books, “It’s a God Thing!” and “On a Wing and a Prayer,” and compiled a short-story collection with other Idaho authors titled “Passageways.”  With her husband, Steve, she hosts a podcast called “Let Me Tell You a Story.”

Please visit her website or contact her via email or Facebook.

 

Excerpt from her most recent novel:

 Winds of Hope***

Prequel to the Kate Neilson Series

THE PRISON GATE CLANGED SHUT behind Kate Neilson, the sound as loud and harsh in her ears as coupling train cars. She’d heard that clatter of metal against metal hundreds of times during her five years of incarceration. Yet with each slam, her stomach lurched and her shoulders jerked. Try as she might to steel herself against the jarring crash, she couldn’t help but react like a startled bird.

For the first time, Kate stood on the visitor side of the barred gate that separated the reception area from the wide fluorescent-lit hallway leading to the cellblocks…..

 

***NOTE from Jackie: To read the entire excerpt, go to http://bit.ly/2sLVHzI  on my ‘Here’s How It Happened’ blog.

 ***NOTE from Jackie: PASSAGEWAYS  is a collection of 16 stories by four authors. They range from amusing (an old lady with an unusual “weapon” for an unusual purpose, in Mattie Cummins), to romantic (Follow the Moonbeam), heart-rending (Grand Champion), thought-provoking (Invisible Thread), mysterious (Three Days) and sweet (Morning Song) to….. downright creepy! (The Magician).

And yes, Gayle Bartos-Pool, there is a Christmas story (Spirit of Christmas) with a not-so-typical ending.

 

Let Freedom Ring!

*My country ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died!
Land of the Pilgrim’s pride!
From every mountain side,
Let freedom ring!

Our father’s God to, Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God, our King!

Freedom.

Freedom.flagFreedom from fear and oppression, freedom to live our lives and fulfill our dreams, freedom to write our stories. It’s in our constitution and our patriotic songs. Freedom is a precious commodity still alive (for the most part) in this country. Oh, may we cherish it!

As authors and journalists, we are still relatively free from censor as long as we don’t intentionally harm someone. Ours is a country made for wordsmiths! We can write our articles, poems, songs, memoirs, stories, and books without fear of being imprisoned. We can think up plots that chill spines or puzzle astute minds; humor and satire that produce chuckles, guffaws, or wry smiles; and desperate, horrific situations that rend hearts (and bring out tissue boxes), and pierce consciences.

Freedom.pen.swordWords have power.

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” said English playwright, Edward Bulwer-Lytton. So let’s wield our words wisely.  Yes, let us use them to entertain, but  also to encourage, inspire, challenge, and provoke our readers toward  what is good.

Come mighty patriots, take advantage of the freedom you have. Write on! Publish! Change a mind, a life, a world!

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:” Psalm 68:11 NIV

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7

 

* Written by Samuel Francis Smith; the tune used for this song is “God Save the Queen”, the British National Anthem.

 

 

Big Black Dogs, a Writing Inspiration

The Dogs of Africa, by Jackie Houchin

I’ve just returned from two weeks in Lilongwe, Malawi. Two things I’ve noticed in the four times I have been there is that many American families (teachers, missionaries, administrators) live in “compounds.” Many well-to-do Malawians do too.

These are large houses – really, amazingly so – inside large, high walled yards. Some of these enclosing brick walls sport coiled barbed wire or broken glass on top. All have solid metal sliding gates that are opened only by guards who work in shifts and only for residents and acknowledged visitors. And…. only after the DOGS are chained.

The transition from red-dusty, pot-holed roads to the lush garden interiors of these compounds is quite astonishing. So is the first sight of the…. huge, barking, slavering, jumping against chains, black guard dogs.

Malawi is known as “The Warm Heart of Africa,” and there has never been a war there. So why the over-the-top security? Poverty and hunger.  Malawi is now officially the poorest country in the world.

But thank God, this year there was sufficient rain, The maize crop – their main food source – did well. Harvesting had begun in earnest while we were there.

But for the last number of years, many, many people in the villages went hungry.  They see (or imagine) the things inside these fortresses as a means to feed themselves and their families. They steal to sell to buy food. Occasionally someone gets hurt if the residents are unexpectedly at home. The intruders’ greatest fear is not the guards, but the dogs. Big dogs. Black dogs.  The color is important; they see them as especially evil and powerful.

IMG_3221 - CopyThe first home our visiting short term missions team stayed at had Simba and Samson – father and son Great Dane/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix dogs. Their shoulders are at hip joint level. Their massive heads taller. Their shining fur, black as night.

Once inside the gate and approved by the owners, the dogs are really quite friendly to visitors and buffet each other to get the most petting. They run loose in the compound, and can be seen lazing about on the thick grass under flowering trees or Hibiscus bushes.  But let a car toot at the gate, and they pound into action. The guard chains them to the wall near his shack at the gate before rolling it open.

My second Missionary Kids’ Story, titled Big Black Dogs, was inspired by these two beasts, with my made-up names of Gideon and Goliath. You can read the story here, (https://jackiehouchin.wordpress.com/2016/10/17/kids-stories-of-missionary-life-in-africa-2-big-black-dogs/ ) and marvel at their instinct for protection and their cunning ways.

This last trip, we stayed at another home (the family I patterned my MK Stories after).  They have been in Malawi only since last summer, but one of the first things they did was to purchase two Great Dane-Shepherd mix pups; black, of course, and big.

FullSizeRender (21)Their young children – fans of the Lord of the Rings series – named them Samwise and Frodo. They are only eleven months old and have some puppy ways, but let a horn sound at the gate and they are transformed into something like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

There is one other Big Black Dog that I have met in Malawi.  He belongs to a family with three children, who hang on him and throw toys for him to fetch. Grown men who frequent the house are, however, quite fearful of him. I think it’s the eyes, because once a car enters the compound, he is quite silent. He watches, his tail never waging. A silent menace.

The family has a large Kondie – screened patio – at the back of the house where they entertain guests. It’s a great place (free of those pesky, dangerous mosquitoes) to talk while the chicken and beef sizzle on the grill.

Their Big Black Dog will appear silently as you relax and gab, and stare at you through the screen. You think that if you approach him all friendly-like and let him sniff your hand, all will be well. He’ll see you are no threat.

FullSizeRender (18)But as you rise and move toward him, a flimsy screen the only barrier separating you, and your eyes meet… he stands and growls deep in his throat and lifts a lip to show long canine teeth. His stiff-legged stance and erect tail warn of horrors to come should you venture closer.

You back away slowly and he stops. Eventually, as you sit down, he turns and resumes his guard duty around the house and other buildings. You notice sweat at your temples and armpits although it’s a fairly cool evening. Eventually your heart beat slows.

When it’s time to leave, the gate guard whistles for the Big Black Dog and secures him to the sturdy chain.  Safe inside your car you drive slowly through the gate. “Killer” – as you have dubbed him – barks viciously and lunges against the chain as you pass.  When you turn into the street and the metal gate rattles along the rail and bangs shut, the barking ends.

As the car moves away, you hear the young daughter of the family call the monster for a game of fetch. “Get it!” she shouts, and you hear nails scrape on cement. “Good boy, Sniff.”

Sniff??

 

 

How to Make A Booklet in 33 “Easy” Steps

By Jackie Houchin.

This is a “How To?” post on making simple half sheet booklets. Booklets can be used for any project or advertisement. I use them to print out my MISSIONARY KIDS STORIES so some of the younger kids can have a “hands on” experience and be able to re-read the stories when Mom’s laptop is not available. These booklets are pretty simple to look at… and I hope I’ve made the instructions simple, but…you judge.  The problem is, there will be differences between PCs and Apple computers and laptops, and with the various aged or brand new software you are using.

I’m using Window 7 with MS Word 2007, and a mid-range Cannon Printer.

READY,

    SET,

         GO!

 

1. Open a new document in Word (I have 2007)

2.  Go to the Page Layout tab.

3.  In the bottom right corner there is a tiny arrow – click on that for a “Page Setup.” (It will open with a small Margins tab, if not, change it to that.)

Snip - Page Set Up

4.  FIRST go to ‘orientation’ and change it to LANDSCAPE.

5.  SECOND go down to the “pages” drop down and click on BOOK FOLD.

6.  THEN, for ‘sheets per booklet,’ use ALL. (Your booklet – however long – MUST have pages divisible by 4, such as 12, 16, 20, 24, 48 etc., or your page printing will be off.  If necessary, press enter, until you have blank pages at the end to equal enough. (Check the page count at the bottom of your screen.)

7.  NEXT  Set the INSIDE and OUTSIDE margins to .5″  Set the TOP and BOTTOM margins anywhere from .5″ to 1.0″ as desired for more or less white space.

8.  Leave O for the GUTTER if you plan to open the booklet flat and center staple it together, or sew it down the middle. If you plan to close your booklet and staple it along the left side, or use a spiral or squeeze binding, then set the GUTTER at .25″ or .5″ inch.

******

 9.  Still in the Page Setup box, go to the Layout tab.

Snip - Page Set up - PAge Layout

10.  Set the Section Start at “New Page.”

11.  Warning: DO NOT CHECK the box for “Different First Page.” Somehow it screws up the order of pages in printing.

12.  Set the headers & footers at .5″.

13.  The vertical alignment stays at “Top.”

14.  Click OK.

******

15.  You will see a vertical half page. Make this title page special, with fonts or photos.

16.  Start your work (or copy and paste from another document) on the following page.  You can change fonts and sizes, spacing and indents, add photos, clip-art, tables, charts,  etc., and change the style by using the Home settings. (For my stories, I use an easy-reader font and the block style of indents.)

Snip- Word home page

******

17.  To add page numbers, go to the Insert tab.

Snip - Header Footer Page Number

18.  Go to the Header & Footer square and click on Page Numbers. It will give you choices as to where you want the numbers placed. For a booklet, it’s best to place them at the center of either top or bottom. You can also “format” what they look like, and at what number you wish to start. Experiment with what you prefer. I start with #O since I don’t want the front cover to be page one.

19.  When you are finished,  MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A NUMBER OF PAGES DIVISIBLE BY FOUR, as per the page number on your screen, NOT on the document, even if you have to “enter” your cursor several times to get a few blank pages at the end.

******

NOTE: I am using a Cannon MG5500 Series Printer, so the following may differ with your machine. Use these as general instructions, and adjust for yours.

20.  Click on “print” (not quick print).

Snip - Print Screen

21.  When that window opens. Choose the number of copies you want to print (or experiment with one at first), and check “Collate.”

22.  Click on “Properties” (upper right corner of your print box).

Snip - Print - Properties - Page layout

23.  Go to the Page Setup Tab.

24.  Make sure LANDSCAPE Orientation is checked.

25.  Check DUPLEX Printing

26.  UN-CHECK “automatic” if it is checked. (With “automatic” checked, the printer will draw the paper back inside to print the opposite side before going on, but THIS DOES NOT WORK WITH A BOOKLET. The second side will be upside down.)

27.  Click on OK, then OK to print.

28.  The printer prints ONE side only, then stops. (It will look weird at first.)

29.  Take your printed pages out and re-insert them, according to how YOUR printer works.

Snip - Print again

With my printer (a front feeder), I keep the pages face up and just lower them down to the paper feed tray beneath the output.  I don’t turn them over or rotate them clockwise (like in this screenshot), STRAIGHT DOWN just as they came out of the printer (EVEN if my printer screen SAYS to rotate them, I don’t.  THAT works only for full page documents, NOT for booklets which are printed and compiled differently.) TEST yours first!

30.  Click “Start Printing” when prompted.

******

 31.  After the second side is printed, take the pages out, align the edges carefully and fold them in half crosswise to find the line where the staples or sewing will be placed. (Or crease them heavily in preparation for stapling or binding them along the left side.)

32.  Use a stapler that opens flat, place cardboard or wood beneath and staple two or three places, with the inside pages of your booklet facing down.

33.  Open and carefully bend the staple ends tight. Fold and crease tightly.

 

AND…

    VOILA!

         A BOOKLET!

 

Megan reading Dead Mice

Megan reading MK Story #1 – “Dead Mice”

 

Thanksgiving Promptings

by Jackie Houchin

Glazed TurkeyOften, before diving into a scrumptious feast, the host of a Thanksgiving celebration will ask her guests to pause and answer this question.

“What is one thing you are thankful for?”

Dutifully each guest around the table mentions some thing or person they especially appreciate. Perhaps a prayer is given to further delay devouring the meal. But finally the repast begins in earnest with guests consuming on average a hearty 3,000 calories each.  (That’s just at the table! Another 1,500 will be eaten while snacking later on.)

I could ask that question here too, but I’d like to do something different. We are writers after all, and presumably you readers scribble a few things down now and then as well.

So instead of that question….

I’d like to challenge you to take one (or more) of the facts or prompts below and think up a brief scenario, or outline, of a fiction story you could develop from them. Write an “elevator pitch” in the comments below. Who knows, you may be able to use it later in a novel, or short story, or as an anecdote in your memoir.

Give it a try, but don’t spend too much time on them. After all there’s a turkey to thaw, bake, eat, or re-purpose into soups or sandwiches. (Along the way, I might offer a mini-suggestion to get your juices running.)

  1. Now a Thanksgiving dinner staple, cranberries were actually used by Native Americans to treat arrow wounds and to dye clothes. (A prison escapee gets a leg wound and…..?)
  2. “Everyone says you can’t go home again. Well this Thanksgiving, I tried and this is what happened….”
  3. Baby turkeys are called poults. Only male turkeys gobble and, therefore are called gobblers. (What is that awful sound Uncle Herbert always makes….?)
  4. “I never realized how grateful I was to have a home until…..”
  5. Black Friday is the busiest day for Roto-Rooter, a major plumbing service. They are called in to clean up “overwhelmed” sewer systems. (At one house, the plugged up sewer system yields…..)
  6. The song “Jingle Bells” was originally written as a Thanksgiving song. (The song writer’s reaction when the publishing of his song is delayed till December….?)
  7. Parents frustrated by a teenager’s lack of gratitude, determine that THIS Thanksgiving, she will be taught a lesson….
  8. The Friday after Thanksgiving is called “Black Friday” because stores hope the shopping day will take them out of the “red” and into positive profits. (Show an alternate reason for why it is called Black Friday.)
  9. Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), who tirelessly worked to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday, was also the first person to advocate women as teachers in publish schools, the first to advocate day nurseries to assist working mothers, and the first to propose public playgrounds. She is the author of two dozen books and hundreds of poems, including “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  (Choose one aspect of her life and turn it into a Historical-Fiction piece.)
  10. Approximately 50 million people watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. (But that year, ONE of them saw….?)

Aw, go on!  Try at least one!

And Happy Thanksgiving!  Each day in November I am posting on my Facebook page things that I am thankful for. Come on over and take a look, and add yours. http://facebook.com/jackie.houchin

WinR profile pic

 

Recently I have been writing short stories for children about missionary life in Malawi, Africa, based on my 3 excursions to the dark continent over the past few years. Stop by and read a few if you are interested. http://www.jackiehouchin.wordpress.com .