Wild Words . . . Photos & Fine Art

Co-creating by heart with sandy cathcart through writers helps and art info, focusing on all things wild.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Short but Impacting!

Goodness! I’m so busy living life that it’s hard to get back here to share with you about all the amazing things I’m learning. I’m off to the coast for a photo shoot and time with The Cat Man, but I’ll cap a few things to whet your appetite for next week when I return.

First of all, the Art Conference at Box R Ranch was amazing . . . far beyond my wildest dreams. Chris Hopkins is an excellent artist who holds nothing back when teaching others. I quickly became a groupie, spending every minute with him and watching and learning and growing . . . I feel absolutely satiated.

What big lesson did I learn?

To not be afraid . . . to go ahead and take chances and try something new . . . to have fun with my art . . . to know the rules . . . but to break them . . . because without breaking them, there is no innovation. If it doesn’t work out, so what? There’s always another time.

Chris’ brother, Steve Hopkins, shared an amazing message about being ready and prepared because there’s something new on the wind. More about that later.

I also learned some very practical how-to tips that I plan to share with you when I return.

Second, I just returned from Colorado where I taught classes and met with fellow authors in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. The Rockies are breathtaking! From sunshine to tremendous storms . . . we had it all! Even a scare one night when lightning struck very close and the fire doors all slammed shut. Whew! We were very nearly evacuated. What wonderful makings for a novel!

I stepped into Ted Dekker’s class and was totally surprised that he remembered me from his trip to Oregon! What a guy! I will share more about his message when I return as well. But the main thing he kept reiterating was to be true to your art and calling as a writer.

Lisa Samson said the same thing, and I can hardly wait to return to tell you what I learned from her about writing as an art form rather than a marketing tool. Such refreshing news!

There’s a lot happening in the writing and art world; it’s a great time for all of us as we develop and grow. So, have a great weekend and check back next Wednesday for some great stuff!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Off to Colorado!

Goodness! I just returned from an amazing art conference and now I'm off again to Colorado.

May is my very busiest month. Plan to check back by May 23 for some great updates on some neat happenings! Until then, enjoy some of the archives and links.

See ya,

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Setting Focus

Something a little different today . . .

My granddaughter posted a quote by Bob Dylan on her blog today. It goes like this:

"Jesus put his hand upon me. It was a physical thing. I felt my whole body tremble."

I understand that kind of touch. I’ve felt it too! And yeah, I believe there was a time in Bob’s life when he really did know the touch of God. Some of his songs definitely portray that time, and we need to pray that he will return to that. I really believe he will in the end, that he will be sorry for all the wasted years. And it's a good lesson that we need to be less hard on our fellow Christians . . . especially the ones who are out there in celebrity world facing all kinds of hard stuff.

But let’s talk about that touch that makes us tremble.

I think it’s true that a lot of us are looking for that touch on a daily basis, and it doesn’t quite work like that. I mean, I’m a writer, and I would definitely like God’s touch on my writing every day . . . for my words to sing and make a difference and have an impact . . . wow! That would be way cool.

But truth is, sometimes I have to pull the words out one word at a time . . . ugh! And when I reach the end of the page, I wonder why anyone would ever want to read any of it. Then, a week later, it starts looking good to me and I realize that God was in it, even when I didn’t realize he was there.

I was aware of His presence after the fact when I painted my granddaughter, Jocelyn Danielle, over Easter weekend. She was in my prayers the whole time and then she was in that horrible accident that I truly believe would have been much worse if God hadn’t spoken to my heart to pray for her. Yet, I didn’t even realize He was speaking. I didn’t feel his trembling touch.

Here's something to try . . . make three appointments with God this week . . . really! Look at your schedule (or make a schedule . . . and set apart three different times to meet with God for at least one hour. Decide now, where the place will be . . . some place quiet, without interruption (perhaps the beach, the mountains, your room with the door closed and everyone knowing you do not want to be disturbed), the basement of your church. And pick a passage of scripture that you will focus on during these three appointments. Also, very important, have a journal or notebook and pen ready for the words God will speak to you. Part of your time should be in prayer, part in scripture and part in worship . . . any combination of the three, but make sure it's all directed at God. Okay, you're all ready. Now do it.

It's different than your morning devotions in that you are stopping everything to meet with God. It's way cool. And EXPECT to hear from Him! I think you will be amazed later when you go back over your journal entries and read what you wrote. Like Elihu says in the book of Job . . . God does speak . . . we simply need to learn to listen. You get better and better at this as you go. Sometimes I simply copy words out of the bible that jump out at me, then when I look back over those words, I see a very definite message. God's word is powerful if used in the right way. Some of my best songs have come out of these appointment times.

Truth is, most of the time I feel God , (that trembling Bob Dylan talked about) more than I hear God but I do have times when I absolutely know I've heard God and it's so powerful, so very close to being an audible voice, that I've actually answered him out loud. Most of the time, I simply know God is here and directing my paths because the outcome is so amazing. Like when I was painting Jocelyn Danielle's picture and praying for her and then she was in that wreck. God knew all along. God is so incredibly cool.

So, in the midst of our writing and painting and drawing and taking photos and living . . . let’s encourage one another to make connections with the One who gave us the ability to do these things in the first place. If the outpouring is getting old or tedious or boring or? Then, it’s a safe bet we need to refocus.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Ultimate Conflict

Yesterday we talked about a series of conflicts escalating to the ultimate conflict in STORY. Today we will talk a bit about that ultimate conflict.

On Easter Sunday, while I was laid up with a blown out knee, I had an epiphany. Or at least that’s how it looked to me at the time. And I think it will have a tremendous affect on my writing.

We talked about this a few weeks ago. Here is a brief summary:

Some of my favorite writers are on the forefront in thinking we must focus on portraying evil in all its raw wickedness in order to reveal the power of God’s light. I won’t dispute their call to do so, but I think we as Christian writers may be making a mistake. I’ve put a lot of thought into this and I have several reasons for coming to this conclusion, all of which come from the Grand Story.

1. The ultimate battle is NOT between good and evil.

The goodness of God has been and always will be greater than any evil. Combining every wicked deed from the holocaust to the atom bomb with the evil of human hearts from the beginning of creation would still not deplete one iota of the goodness of God.

The cross is a perfect example of all evil coming together in one place, yet it did not crush God’s goodness. God’s goodness overcame the last enemy—death—through the power of the resurrection.

2. The true battle is between God’s perfect love and God’s perfect justice.

The antagonist and hero are one in the same. It is the ultimate conflict. The cross is an astounding resolution. God took the penalty for us in answer to His perfect justice, and in doing so He restored the way of perfect love.

Okay, so how does this affect our writing?

1. First of all, the battle between good and evil will still exist in our stories. That is a very real battle. But it is important to remember that it is not the ultimate battle. The ultimate battle will take place in the mind . . . the place where we (and our characters) make the choice between good and evil.

If we choose good, we experience God’s ultimate love. If we choose evil, we will experience God’s ultimate justice.

The mind is the interior part of your character (if writing fiction) or the driving force (if you are writing nonfiction). It adds depth to a story. If a story resorts only to physical battle, then the reader moves along from one conflict to another at break neck speed until they finally come to the end. Then they put the story down and most often forget what it was about in a very short time.

If you add internal conflict, then the reader will relate to the battle of choice and will often remember the character long after finishing the story.

It is this interior conflict that makes Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger work so well. I haven’t read the book in years but I still remember wanting to know if Rube really saw what he thought he saw.

A word of caution here, don’t leave out the exterior while navigating the interior. Readers need a good exterior plot as well, but the interior is where the real battle is fought and won or lost. We don’t care so much if a character or author loses a battle, but we do care about how they turn out in the end. Are they stronger for having lost the battle? Have they learned something in the process that will carry them through the future? Or will he or she become bitter and hard, hating the world for what it did to them (Phantom of the Opera). That’s the interior battle that raises havoc on our ability to choose. We all face it, and we are all fascinated by the outcome of other people’s (or characters) choices.

So, go back and look at your story, whether it’s fiction of nonfiction, short or long. Is that interior battle the strongest force? It should be either driving the story or affecting it in a big way.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Every Story Needs a Hero!

Every story needs a hero. But what does that hero want?

One awesome way to find out is to start with the hero’s real world. What does his or her day-to-day look like? Then introduce a problem—the kind of problem that will shake up their world.

It can be as simple as a 12-year-old boy named Nick kicking rocks on his way home from school. His real world is simply catching air on his skateboard and hanging with friends. Girls are a nuisance. Then, in the middle of kicking his rocks, he notices a girl. Wow!

Suddenly this girl seems like something worth having. She looks pretty awesome and Nick’s thinking he just may like to hang around with her for a while . . . maybe even figure out how to do that kissing thing. In fact, the more he looks at her, the more he thinks his world really is pretty dull without her.

What you’ve done is created a character, given him a setting and placed him in a scene that will give him a goal. In essence you’ve answered the age old question: This is a story about ?? who wants ?? but ?? stands in his or her way.

This is a story about Nick who wants the girl but his own fear stands in the way. And we will soon discover that his best friend also stands in the way, because he likes the same girl. Now we have a major problem.

Problems are conflicts…and conflicts make story. Every good story has a hero (protagonist), and every good story has an antagonist who is of equal strength or stronger. In nonfiction, the author is often the protagonist.

Another very important element is that goal. What does the character want? Sometimes it looks like the character wants one thing, and then it ends up beings something deeper than they first realized.

If any of these elements are missing in any scene, anecdote, chapter, or book . . . we feel cheated.

So, if your story isn’t working. If something seems shallow about it. Or it’s almost okay but not quite. Go back and see if you’ve left out one of these elements. That will help you set up structure, and structure is important BEFORE you start worrying about grammar and description and everything else you want to put in your story.

Give your character a problem that creates a goal. Then have your character take the first step toward that goal.

In this case, Nick takes the first step by kicking a rock toward the girl to get her attention. But instead of the rock simply landing at her feet, it bounces in the air and hits her on the chin. She screeches in pain and looks right at Nicky who simply stands there with a silly grin on his face.

“What did you do that for?” Beauty asks.

“Hi!” Nick says.

Beauty scowls and narrows her eyes. Then she reaches down and picks up the rock and throws it with the most perfect hard right Nick has ever seen. It hits him smack between the eyes, but he could care less. “Wow!” he says. “Where did you learn to throw like that?”

Beauty shakes her head and walks away.

What is the next step Nick will take to get her?

This is the pattern of the story. You introduce conflict, then you have your main character face the conflict and take the first step. Then you have a consequence and another conflict and another step and so on . . . all the way up to the major conflict, which is a make-it-or-break-it moment. These conflicts should escalate as the story progresses, then wham! The big moment. Nick has to have the girl. He will do anything to get her, even at the cost of his best friend.

Does he get her? Does he lose his friend? Will he have regrets? What is his new real world at the end of the story?

This is the pattern and heart of all good stories.

Do you have all the progression in your story? Or is there something missing? For those of you who don’t like to outline beforehand, this is a good way to figure out what’s wrong or missing in your story. For those of you who outline ahead, try mapping out this simple chart first. I use it all the time and it’s one of the best tools I’ve found.

Even when I’m reading someone else’s story, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, I can figure out what’s wrong and where the weak spots are by simply following this simple progression. So, give it a try and have some fun while you’re at it.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Starting a Nonfiction Project

Hoo boy! Tomorrow ended up being a couple days away. Sorry about that. Things are really cookin’ here.

Today we’ll talk about nonfiction. It’s pretty much a whole different ball game…at least in a lot of ways, but in other ways it’s pretty much the same.

It’s the same in that we still need to use good fiction techniques in creating intrigue and setting up good dialogue and scene.

It’s different in that we usually know the outcome from the get go, and we better know what we’re going to say or we will find ourselves in trouble.

In the early days of my writing I would end up at critique group asking them what they got out of my articles, because I was never quite sure what I was saying. No wonder my articles didn’t sell!

It isn’t enough to just have a good story when it comes to nonfiction. We need a good take-a-way as well.

Don’t know what a take-a-way is? It’s simply something that you want to leave your reader with, something that you want them to think about long after they’ve read the last word of your article or story.

Truth is, I’m not much better at outlining nonfiction than I am fiction. I still end up writing the outline AFTER I’ve written the article.

So, here’s how I start. I look for a good title and/or first paragraph. This is something I usually do in my head before I ever approach a computer or paper.

Let’s take a look at the first paragraph I wrote for my article on Ted Dekker:

He rode into town after sunset, catching the edges of a storm. Nearly a hundred of us lined up and waited at Evangel Bookstore in the Mall. Expecting thunder and lightning, we braced ourselves for a fright. After all, Ted Dekker produces thrillers that keep burley men awake at night while they turn the pages and jump at every sound. Instead, Ted offered the hand of friendship and answered every question as if we were all part of The Circle—that intimate group of friends who draw close and dive deeper into the heart of Elyon. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up your own copy of Black, it will keep you on the edge of your seat and make your heart yearn for Heaven.

The entire paragraph was written in my head on the hour-long drive from the interview back to my home in the mountains. The beginning line was easy because it fit with the opening of House,
Ted’s most recent book.

The title, “Diving Deep With Ted Dekker,” was easy. I simply used Ted’s signature phrase, “Diving Deep.”

It also seemed appropriate to wrap the ending back to the beginning since “circle,” is another of the things Ted is known for. I had the ending early on:

Ted ended the evening by recognizing the circle emblem around the neck of Phil Lemons. “Circle brother,” Ted said. Then he invited all of us to join him on the internet: Teddekker.com. Fittingly, he joined hands with us in a circle and left with the parting words, “Dive deeper…on your journey through life, may you always dive deep.”

The rest was easy to write. It simply flowed from the bits and pieces of interview and research I had done. Once the research and interviews were completed, the rest was easy. BUT I spent hours on research and stuck around the booksigning for a couple of hours.

Let’s look at how to begin a book-length manuscript. Here is the first paragraph I ever had of Wild Women:

To the untrained eye we wild women may first appear to be a lonely, disheveled lot, but a deeper look reveals a soul full of countless treasures and camaraderie tighter than that of siblings. It's the call of the wild running deep in our blood, forming a special unbreakable bond with nature. I feel it whenever I hit the trail and smell the musky scent of game and wet earth; I savor it over open fires and far-seeing places; I dream of it on my bed at night when the rain makes music on the roof; and I treasure the memory of it when it's all over and I begin planning for the next adventure.
Wild is more than a physical untamed place; it's an unrestrained soul soaring on the wings of the wind.

I guess that’s really two paragraphs.

The title came to me long before the paragraphs, but I always knew it needed a subtitle. I went through several changes before I reached what I have now. If you’ve read my sample chapter of Wild Women, you also know that my first paragraph has changed.

Why is that?

The original first paragraph was aimed at outdoor women. I thought they were my target audience, but I have since changed my mind. The book was nearly published just like I had it, but the publishing team (after 30 days in committee) decided they weren’t sure if women were ready for such information in book form.

I wasn’t sure they were either.

So, I did a survey of outdoor women’s groups across America and Canada to see how many outdoor women there actually were. I discovered that there were a lot!

But did they read? It seemed like they were too adventurous to wanna take time to read.

(Photo by my friend, Garret Harrington)

Then I started attending outdoor women’s events and was pleasantly surprised to find that most outdoor women carry a book in their backpacks. It makes sense, if you think about it. These women (including myself) don’t have time for TV, because we don’t usually sit still that long. But a book is perfect, because we can put it down and come back to it, so it never hinders the adventure.

So why did I change the paragraphs?

Because I still felt like I was missing the real point of Wild Women.

The answer didn’t come to me until I took two separate ten-day pack trips into the wilderness. Both times, I focused on Wild Women and asked God for direction. The second time I got it.

Wild Women isn’t just an adventure story…it’s a journey of the American west. It’s a coming-of-age story of an entire generation. Discovering that fact gave me an entirely different thrust. Instead of simply encouraging my readers in outdoor adventure, I am now offering a way to make some sense of their lives in the process of going for their dreams. My audience has now expanded to include city and urban women. My first paragraph says it all:

It’s always like this when I’m in the wilderness—the spiritual and physical meld into one. My vision quest has been filled, I’ve connected with the nighthawk, and I’ve slept under the stars every night. I came out here with questions, yearning to leave the hectic behind and make some sense of my life.

I’ve told the reader that I’m on an adventure, both physical and spiritual. I’ve set up the scene and I’ve hinted that we may find some answers to some questions and make some sense of our lives. And who hasn’t desired to leave the hectic?

Do I have all the answers at the start of the book?

No! I’m letting the book carry me along. I’m finding the answers as I go. So, now the writing of the book as become a journey to me, and if it’s interesting to me, I can count on it being interesting to my readers as well.

The last paragraph of the first chapter wraps up the questions and answers of the chapter:

I envision a laughing Creator, raising his voice to the clouds and covering himself with torrents of rain—a Creator very much in touch with His creation. Tresa and I dance our way out to the upper bluff and stand in full view of Devil’s Peak. A swirling, angry, red sky rises above it, but we are invincible, tucked away as we are in the palm of God’s hand. Our laughter echoes off the bluff, tumbling into the crevice below. The feeling of invincibility stays with us until all light falls from the heavens and we have no choice but to creep through the dark back to camp.

Tresa and I have discovered a way of overcoming fear and have experienced something beyond the ordinary, yet we can’t stay in that high. We have to come down and face the consequences of the storm in the dark of night. That leads me right into the next chapter, and the last paragraph of chapter two leads me into the next. It truly is an adventure of discovery.

Of course, not all writers write like this. And I don’t always either, but I have discovered that it is more my style than any other, and it most often works for me. So, in one sense I’m unearthing the story just as I do in fiction. Even though I know this story inside out, it has surprises for me. It takes me places I never thought I would go. Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself if I really want my readers knowing this much. It goes deeper, explores more territory than I had envisioned.

This kind of book cannot be written in fourteen days. It goes deeper than that.

Unlike my fiction story, I’m not absolutely sure of the ending. I have a vague idea, but I suspect it will change a lot before I actually get there. And that’s okay. I think the ending will be more real to my readers if we discover the answers together.

Right now I’m on chapter eight of my story. I’m thinking chapter nine will wrap up the first section of the book. And I think there will be three sections altogether. I kind of have a sense of timing and place for each section of the book but that may change as well. I’m pretty sure the book will start with a storm and end with a storm. But that may change too.

Goodness! You say. How can you write like that?

Ahhhhhhhh, how can I not? It’s me. It’s my style. And I love it.

I just finished a chapter where my house burned to the ground. Now, I’m looking at how that relates to the disaster of the terrorist attacks on September 11. I put myself in the scene, sitting by the campfire trying to make sense of it all, and I let the scene carry me.

Gotta have an outline you say? That’s okay. We all end up with one sooner or later. Here’s a great quote from an article I found:

Alice Klement said, “can mean any of the forms deeply embedded in readers' heads that say how a story is told, where meaning is carried, where patterns have a familiar ring. Good writers outline stories—beforehand or afterward—to ensure that they have good structure, or to understand their frailties.”

I agree!

Tomorrow we’ll talk more about how to use outline to FIX a story. And while we’re at it we’ll return to my thoughts about good versus evil in story. I think you will be surprised at some of the conclusions I’ve come to.