A Blessing for Writers

I spent my weekend at the Breathe Christian Writers Conferenceone of my favorite things EVER. I had the immense privilege of writing a blessing and prayer for this community that has given me so much and I just wanted to share it with you in lieu of a blog post today. I think this is something that can bless all creatives out there.

Last year we closed the conference with a statement by James Scott Bell:
“We are the storytellers. We bring the light.”

This year has proven time and time again that we are still called to this. These are dark and divisive times where the light is more desperately needed than ever before.

Each of us was called to this noble task ahead. How do we know we are called? We have been saved. And we are also called to share what we have been graciously given.

To adapt the words of Alvin Plantinga for the sake of us writers:
“We who are Christians and propose to be writers must not rest content with being writers who happen, incidentally to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian writers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.”

This is the charge I give to you, writers!

May we continue to encourage one another onward:

To create with integrity—knowing that to create costs, but that we have been called to create nonetheless.

To create with independence—knowing God has given us work that only we can do with the experiences and burdens he has bestowed to each of us.

But most of all to create with Christian boldness—to know that whether we write for an audience of believers or not, or even an audience of one, we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of courage.

We go out from this place to tell the truth in our stories, poems, songs, essays, scripts, letters, emails, even our ephemeral social media musings. We go out to invite the world to sit at the feet of our God and listen.

All great liturgies end with a sending, so may I pray with you to send you out?

 

Lord,

I thank you for this gathering where we may join together and affirm the gifts and words you have given to us. You have placed each and every person in these seats with great purpose and I thank you for the call you have placed on these lives.

May these souls leave here encouraged, connected to one another and even more deeply connected with you.

As we journey from here, do not let us shy away from the words you have given us to write, but instead let us push past resistance and sit down to our desks, our notepads, our computers and let us write. Let us write with the boldness you have granted each of us. Let us remember that courage follows obedience and not the other way around.

May the fruit of our worship and our writing be that which gathers, unites, and blesses.

Let us be a body that encourages one another when the truth seems too heavy, when the audience seems non-existent, when the deadline looms too quickly, when the enemy shouts too loudly, and when the words seem too few. Let us build one another up, pushing one another toward you—the giver of words, author of our lives and creator of the ultimate story.

We write because you write. We create because you create. We tell because you have saved.

Protect us as we leave this place. Give our words a place to land. Give our hearts a glimpse of home.

We thank you again, Father.

In your name,

Amen

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Novice Novelist, Episode 1: 5 Things I Think of When Editing

Breaking news!: I have a new YouTube Channel!

This is an exciting new development for my platform, and I’m glad I get to share it with you. See below for more info on the why of this.

In the meanwhile, here is the first episode of The Novice Novelist!

I’ve been feeling a little lost in my platform efforts until I began preparing my Breathe Conference talk on growing from a small platform. As I began to research, I found that I wasn’t having fun with my platform and that was keeping me from wanting to grow it.

I was also missing some of the video production portions of my old job and wanted to grow my video editing skills (which are none) to something more marketable. This is how the Novice Novelist was born!

My goal is to make a video a month and post on the channel and the blog.

The White Feather Murders: Q&A with Rachel McMillan

I am so excited for this week’s post because I’ve had a major woman crush on Rachel McMillan for about a year now. Her debut novel The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder was such a pleasure to read and both sequels were equally—if not more—satisfying.
Her latest release, The White Feather Murders is in stores now and was the perfect vacation read! (Just in case you still haven’t figured out what you’re reading this summer!)

What inspired this story and characters of the Herringford & Watts series?

It really came in the most unusual way. My agent was having no luck when shopping my first book (a romance set during the Halifax explosion in 1917). Nonetheless, a lot of editors liked my style and asked if I had anything else. My agent, returning from a conference, said “everyone seems to be looking for romantic suspense. You love Sherlock Holmes. What about a female Sherlock?” I thought it sounded like a fun challenge. Then, I just holed myself into a favourite coffee shop for a weekend and brainstormed. I have a full notebook of things. I wanted to play on Doyle’s original name for Sherlock, Sherrinford, so Merinda became Merinda Herringford and I wanted to play on Watson so Jem Watts was born. I figured the girls needed some guys and Jasper Forth was born as a police constable and possible love interest for Jem. But…no! Jem needed someone who would completely shake her well-bred world. A muckraking reporter (who became Ray DeLuca) would be the perfect way to highlight the immigrant experience in Toronto during the early 1900s. He would also be the perfect “so-wrong-it’s-right” across-the-tracks romance for lady-like Jem. Once I had the characters, I needed to figure out WHY Jem and Merinda dressed in bowlers and trousers (for I was always most certain that they did), and a night in the Toronto archives led me to learning about Toronto’s Morality Police and how women were arrested for vagrancy and thrown into reformatories. Everything else stemmed from there….

Your stories are very grounded in place—Toronto is practically a character. How were you able to step back in time in your own town and really bring it to life?

I have always been obsessed with Toronto. Really, this series is a love letter to Toronto which remains the most multi-cultural city in the world. For me, it really was peeling back the curtain to imagine what the city streets would have looked like in Jem and Merinda’s time. Of course, many of the buildings and areas mentioned are around today; but giant skyscrapers counter them. Luckily, Toronto archives has a wonderful (and I mean wonderful) collection of thousands and thousands of photographs from the city in this period. Photographs, maps, the trolley and streetcar lines…everything was there for me to take around and compare. After that, it was just using my imagination. Some places were easier than others, of course, depending on the preservation and restoration. For example, the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres which I use a lot still very much look the same. As does Casa Loma, the inspiration for Pelham Park in The White Feather Murders.

You tie up a lot of loose ends in The White Feather Murders. What was most challenging and what was most joyous in ending this era of Herringford & Watts?

For me, the most challenging part of the entire series was the word count. Harvest House really wanted to try something new for our Netflix culture—shorter word counts, interspersed novellas—easy peasy. But packing history and character development into a book that would be shorter than most historical novels was a super big challenge for me. Luckily, I used footnotes and epigraphs and snippets from the Hogtown Herald, etc., to try and give myself some room to colour in what I couldn’t spend word count on in fuller description. Another challenge was saying goodbye. Not forever, but for now. I lived and breathed these characters for two and some years. When I wasn’t writing a novel, I was editing a novella and drafting another book in the series. They were everything. They really are some of my best friends because I was so immersed in them.  While I cannot see myself closing the door on Jem and Merinda forever (they still need to go to PEI! They still need to visit Benny in the Yukon!), setting them aside has been a challenge. I love them so much.

As for joyous moments, finally seeing that end scene with Jasper and Merinda in print. That epilogue with the two of them was the first scene I wrote before I even started on Bachelor Girl’s Guide. I always knew I wanted a scene like that and I love the way the book ends and I hope readers do, too! 😉

What character in the H&W series was the most fun to write? (And I’m disqualifying Hamish. We can talk about him shortly.😉)

Merinda. By far and away Merinda. Merinda was easy. Merinda just showed up with a voice and an attitude and her terrible trippings into amateur detection. I love her. I also really love any scene with the four leads. And Ray and Merinda standing off is a favourite. But, Merinda is so fun to write. When you create a character like Merinda, you really have the world as your oyster, because she can say and do the most unexpected things. I’m laughing about her right now.

You’re a fellow writer with a day job. How do you strike that balance? How do you orient your days to write?

Yes! True story: unless you have a husband to support you or are JK Rowling, you are most likely going to have to have a job while writing books, lol. The Herringford and Watts series had very tight deadlines, so any time I wasn’t at the office, I was working. Evenings and weekends and holidays are Godsends to writers who work. I would set weekly goals and I would stick to them. I have a subway commute to work, and I often read over what I wrote the night before and get some editing done. When it comes to concurrently marketing, I use my lunch hours at work for social media, interviews, guest blogs, etc. I can’t say it was always easy and I was often sleep deprived; but it was so worth it. My new series has somewhat more breathable deadlines.

What books, movies, music, etc. feed you as an artist?

OH! This is such a fun question. It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on social media that I am a broadway obsessed nerd. I listened to a lot of Titanic(musical) and Ragtime and Newsies while crafting Jem and Merinda’s world. I am such a voracious reader but I love historical fiction that has a super captivating and unique voice… that just pings with personality. A few loves are The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley and the Horatio Lyle series by Catherine Webb. Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy series and Deanna Raybourn’s novels are the types of book worlds I aspire to create with my mysteries. In inspirational fiction, I have been so inspired by Lynn Austin and how she advocates for women heeding to God’s calling beyond the domestic sphere. Fire by Night and A Woman’s Place are both very influential to me. I don’t know if it feeds me as an artist, but my favourite film of all time is Master and Commander. I just love how it captures a 21 book series I love (by Patrick O’Brian) into 2.5 hours. I love historical films and books that capture the essence of a time period.

You’ve been talking a lot about Hamish via social. Is there anything you can tell us about his story? (Dying to meet him!)

Hamish DeLuca is really special to me. He’s Jem and Ray’s son and he’s completely the opposite of Jem and Merinda. When his cousin Luca Valari invites him to Boston for the summer to help open a new night club, Hamish never dreams that he will be tugged into the city’s underworld….and even a murder scene. He pairs up with ex-New Haven debutante Regina (Reggie) Van Buren and has to balance his attempts at deduction with his growing feelings for his “Girl Friday.” I think what sets Hamish apart is that he suffers from an anxiety and panic disorder: things that in the 1930s during his adventures were grossly misdiagnosed. In order to spare himself primitive treatments like shock therapy and mercury pills, he is forced to try and hide his hand tremors and panic attacks. (For readers of White Feather Murders, you can see how Hamish inherited a bit of this nervous disposition from his father). I hope readers will enjoy reading about a slightly different beta hero: a guy who has a heart of gold, is fiercely loyal, but is just a little bit shy. And, like Toronto in Herringford and Watts, Boston takes a starring role. The 30s is so fun and noir-ish!

What advice would you give to any yet-unpublished writers out there?

a.) don’t be married to your first manuscript. It might not be the one that gets you in the door. Be malleable. I write in a genre unexpected to me because I was willing to follow a market trend to get my foot in the traditional publishing door.

b.) always have something in your back pocket. While your book is on submission with agents or editors, start writing something else. Editors and agents want to see that if one book isn’t working, another might just be right to fill a hole in the marketplace.

I have an ongoing blog series called The Bible College Spinster where I explore the thoughts and struggles of happily single young women in churches or communities where they are the minority. Any thoughts, encouragement, or empowerment for my fellow “spinsters”?

I love that you talk about this; because this is such a big theme in my Herringford and Watts books. I once told a friend that I felt so out of place in church circles (unmarried, no kids, no boyfriend), that I might as well have been an Edwardian woman in trousers. With the current statistic of twice as many single Christian women than men, it may well be a certainty that you don’t end up marrying: either by choice or circumstance. Personally, I never thought I would make it to my 30s without marrying; but largely this was because my formative years were filled with the Church rhetoric that we should “pray for our future husbands.” Setting the expectation that marriage and families are the driving trajectory in a woman’s life can lead her into a ton of insecurity in her adult life when things may not fall into place. I would say that you don’t need to pray for your future spouse; but you do need to pray for your future.   I would also encourage women to recognize there is nothing in the world they cannot do without a husband or boyfriend. Instead of waiting for a partner to take that trip you have always wanted to go on, save up and go by yourself. Every woman, I think, should travel on her own at least once in her life. Take a journal and a book and go. Instead of waiting for a partner to go to that concert or play you really want to see, take yourself on a date. There is a lot of freedom in being single. Do I wish I would wake up and find my own Ray DeLuca around the corner? Absolutely! But I am not going to put my life on hold for that. And neither should any woman.😉

What question do you wish would be asked in blog Q&As and what is your answer to that question?

WOW! This is so cool and I have to say I have been asked some amazing questions over the course of the series. Including this Q and A! But I’ve never been asked what my first book was. And so I will tell you. My first book was written when I was 9 or 10. It was set in Switzerland. It starred a captured milk maid named Lahna who alone with her mouse Burly were trapped in the palace for a crime they didn’t commit. It also starred two twin brothers—both princes—one the evil Bradley and the other the good white knight Christopher. They both fought for Lahna. I bought a hard-bound book from the dollar store and copied it out in my best printing. And drew castles and mice. It was clearly legendary, LOL

You can buy your own copy of the Herringford & Watt’s series here (Book 1, Book 2, Book 3). Her book with Thomas Nelson releases summer 2018.

Where is ‘Here’?

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After that last post, you may have walked away with a question:

“Uh, Lex? How is ‘being present’ a resolution?”

Great question!…I’m still figuring that out.

Aren’t we always trying to figure out where were at and how best to be there? Arrival is a lie, I’m learning. (Except not really, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to arrive at 42. That’s when I’m gonna get the ever-elusive “it”…I hope.)

We so often have these visions of what our lives are supposed to be in some distant yet not-so-distant future and we’re striving for “there.” But what about “here”? What about what’s in front of you right now?

I want to be rooted to here and to now and to invest in what has been placed before me. I’m just trying to figure out what that is.

Three weeks into a new job and new season, I’m still trying to figure out what life looks like, let alone how to dig into it deeper. Here is are a few things I do know:

I want to invest in people

For over a year, I have had a really deep longing and growing restlessness surrounding community. This is my second year of refraining from leading a high school girls small group. That’s a hard thing for me, but I knew when I stepped down that I was being obedient. I am feeling the tug to feel elsewhere, but that call is not quite clear yet.

I have more time in this new chapter and passions that have grown in ways I did not expect. I want to invest in young adult women who are trying to find their footing. I want to see singles thrive in the church, investing in their community in rich ways. I want to see women my age feel empowered to use their gifts to build the kingdom because God does not give us gifts he does not intend to be used, regardless of gender. I want to see women move through college, their job searches, their singleness, their friendships and relations with great purpose.

These are abstract and lofty wants. So how does that come to be?

I have many more shrugs than I do answers, honestly. But I do know that I have so many friends that are in this twenty-something stage of shrugs and I have been given two ears to listen with. I have a table to gather people around to enjoy a meal and each other’s company. I have a heart for books and discussions and love to host. These are just small things, but they are what I have to offer.

I trust fruit comes of our desires and our offerings.

I want to invest in my craft

I finished the first draft of my novel.

This is huge and I’m excited about this, but this is by no means the finish line.

I have taken January off from writing to rest a little, but that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything. I have been reading like a crazy woman since New Year’s Day and I’m loving it. (Also, if you’re looking for recommendations, the top of my list are this, this, and this.)

Once this month is over, I’ll be printing off the manuscript and reading as a whole for the first time. I’ll start making my edits and preparing it for a string of first readers. I’m excited, but also nervous because this is farther in the process than I’ve ever been. This is further out in the gray reality than I’ve let myself get as an artist. It is risk and that is terrifying, but freeing all at once.

This is an investment in my craft that I am dedicating myself to this year and we’ll see how it goes.

I want to invest in the word

I’m learning there is nothing better I can do for those in my life than to be invest in the word.

The plan is to make regular time for silence and refocusing. To be grounded in God’s higher thoughts than reliant on my lower ones.

 

This is a year for growing up and giving out. I am so excited to see where it may lead.

What are you striving toward this year?

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Celebrate Your Story

A photo by Thomas Kelley. unsplash.com/photos/hHL08lF7Ikc

I’ve been a writer for eleven years now. (Don’t do the math. It’s embarrassing.) In those eleven years, I have learned many things. Among them:

  • You should not send your entire manuscript to an award-winning author even if they have befriended your high school self and gave you their email address. That’s not why they gave it to you.
  • Sometimes those with more experience are wrong about your work. (Most of the time they are probably right, but sometimes their not.)
  • Read the classics. If you don’t want to do that, it is because you live under a rock where you’ve believed they are boring your entire life. You’re wrong. They are not boring.
  • Liking boys just because they said they like to read is an okay thing to do. Believing you will one day marry a boy just because he says that is an ill-informed belief.
  • Sometimes you will like your made-up people better than your real-life people. That’s okay for a couple hours, but don’t make that a permanent state of being.
  • You should send your first three chapters to the kid in your fiction workshop class who is unexplainably excited about what you’ve written.
  • You should also ask the girl who sits next to you in that workshop about her opinions on your characters, especially since she’ll still talk to you after reading what you’ve written. They are both good eggs and will be some great cheerleaders.
  • Don’t get discouraged when older writers get published when they’ve been doing this a shorter time than you. You’re 18 and you’ve got time.
  • Go to the conference your professor recommends. It’s going to change your whole perspective on the calling you’ve been given.
  • Don’t let the guy who doesn’t think art is a valid life calling get you down. But also stop dating him. First boyfriends aren’t supposed to be last boyfriends anyway. There are plenty of other mistakes to make once college is over.
  • Someone’s opinion on Oxford commas is a good litmus test for starting a friendship (namely, if they have one.)
  • Writing is hard and sometimes the time isn’t there and sometimes the words aren’t there. Don’t freak out. It will not always be hard. You will learn to make the time. The words will return. Breathe in, breathe out. That’s all you’re in control of.

These are just a few of the pitfalls and strange lessons of my writing journey that I’m celebrating. I owe a lot of these lessons to the Breathe Conference and the community I have come to know and love through it.
We celebrate the conference’s tenth anniversary this year and I want to invite you in to that. If you are on a writing journey, let’s celebrate it on October 7 & 8. James Scott Bell will be there as will a whole other host of great writers.
Register today and I’ll see you there!

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Emerge

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So there’s been some radio silence on the blog. It has been for good reason. I’ve been involved in multiple weddings this summer and am still trying to meet a November deadline for the first draft of my novel.

It’s been a busy season and I am realizing the value of self-care, not only physically and emotionally, but creatively too.

The sermon at my church a couple weeks ago was extremely encouraging. I’ve heard Don Perini give this talk a couple times and I wanted to pass it along that you may be encouraged as well.

Enjoy!

Platform is part of the process

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I love working with writers. Whether it’s during the process of plotting or even post publication, I love seeing how different authors minds work. I love the behind the scenes glimpses I get of those around me.

In the midst of the behind the scenes moments, a lot of talk about a writer’s platform comes up. (Probably because I am both a writer and a marketer…I doubt many writers feel the need to bring up their platform in random small talk scenarios…)

Most of the published writers I know are not too thrilled that they also have to do their own marketing. Confessing what I do for a living to a published writer usually starts a litany of complaints or confused questions.

And I get it, trust me I do. It can be really overwhelming to think about having to keep up a website and a blog and a Facebook page and an Instagram and a Snapchat and and and. It can be a lot.

Except that for a writer, platform building isn’t marketing. It’s storytelling. It is, in fact, part of the writing process.

Think about it this way: What good is telling a story that no one is listening to? What good is telling it if no one even knows you’re telling it?

Building your platform is telling the story of your story. And you get to tell it to those who care about you. You are not just shouting out unto the void, you’re telling your friends and family about it. And then they will tell their friends and family and your circle of influence begins to grow. You are telling a story that catches on.

Publishers only have so much influence when it comes to marketing a book. A book may be critically acclaimed, but that doesn’t mean it is read by the general public. Your personal connections—your friends, family, and co-workers—make a huge difference.

The leg work an author is expected to do in building their platform and marketing their book does not have to be extensive. Choose two or three things you can do well and begin to unpack your story—both the one you’re writing and the one you’re living. Those are the stories your circle of influence wants to hear.

Your Gift is Not Broken

So most likely you had an experience involving a gift in the past week. You tore into the paper and revealed some new something that someone who cares about you chose for you with care. It was a great moment. You’ve been using it all week.

And it probably wasn’t broken when you received it.

I mean, at least in my experience- unless it’s a white elephant gift exchange – you don’t usually unwrap a Christmas gift, look at the giver and say, “Thank you!… Now you’re sure this isn’t broken?”… At least I hope you don’t.

I’ve talked about my involvement with the Breathe conference in a few previous posts. This past year, I sat in a session by the fabulous Tracy Groot and was given a gem of a thought that I’ve been chewing on for the past couple months:

“God has not given you a broken gift.”

Think about the power of that statement. But before you even do that, think about how you view the gifts God has given you.

If you’re like me, you may have been told you are gifted in a certain area, or even many areas, but you don’t quite believe it. I’m not a prodigy. I’m not famous. I’m not perfect. So my “gift” isn’t super great or anything. It just kind of is.

We act as if the gifts given from God are the ugly Christmas sweater great aunt Pearl made us… The one we’ll never use, tucked back in the crevasse of the closet.

But get this: God is the giver of good and perfect gifts! (Matthew 7:10-12)

To discount the work and the passions he has given is to discount the gifts he gives.

For me, I am not a perfect writer. By any means. (If you’ve stuck around Bohemia long enough, I’m sure you’ve noticed.) But I have a gift and a calling and I must be faithful to that because it is not a broken gift despite my brokenness. It is a gift I have been given to cultivate and grow in.

What gifts have you been given? Have you been believing the lie that that gift is broken? What does it mean for you to dwell in the truth that you have been given a good and perfect gift?

NaNoWriMo and Priorities

Happy November!

If you’re like me, you weren’t sure you were going to make it this far, but here we are.

Last week, I promised to tell you what’s up so here’s the biz:

For the first time in a while, not a lot is up. Things have slowed down with my marketing business so I can have a better balance of work and play in light of my new job.

Since my schedule has been so jam-packed with work for the last two months, I haven’t really had the time to invest in the relationships I need to or even take in what’s been going on in my life.

In light of some recent circumstances and big changes, I would like to reorient myself and sort through some things with God.

Something that’s also been pushed to the back of the closet is my novel. Last month, I was so convicted that if I am really called to be writing this book, then I better sit my butt down for more than five seconds and finish the thing. I am excited to get back to the novel and have been starting to think through next steps. It’s exciting and a little frightening and I am ready for the adventure.

As such, I’m taking this month to connect with some close friends, take a couple trips, read, think, pray and write like it’s goin’ out of style. With these things being a priority, I am not going to be blogging for the month of November.

I’m not a NaNoWriMo person. I’m not crazy. But I would like to participate in the festivities by taking time this month to invest in my art.

People and art. Those are two of my favorite things in life and I am thrilled to be involved with them both once again.

I already have some great things in mind for December, so please check in again at that point.

Have a wonderful November!

Having Exhaled

This past weekend I had the great privilege of volunteering at the Breathe Conference.

It was a beautiful time to connect with both old and new writing friends and to encourage one another forward in our art.

Part of what I have come to be so thankful for at this conference is the lack of self-importance of everyone. I started coming to this conference as a punk seventeen year old who only knew she wanted to write stories. If the organizers of the conference had just stuck up their noses at the little girl with no clue, I am not kidding, my world would look a lot different right now.

Instead, I was welcomed with opened arms, mentored, and loved by so many awesome writers and publishing folks. They have encouraged me in my writing as well as my career and I am forever for grateful for them and the conference that introduced me to them.

So going to this thing is like meeting up with family. Only great family!…Not drunk/creepy Uncle Phil. It’s like the thanksgiving you wish was real. And it is… it’s just not thanksgiving, it’s a writer’s conference!

I have been writing fiction for ten years. It’s a good chunk of time considering my age, So much has changed and, then again, so much hasn’t. There is somehow a big difference in being a twelve year old writing in her parent’s basement every night after school than being a twenty-two year old writing in her parents basement when she makes the time. There’s more struggle now. More risk.

I am working toward finishing a novel and I’m having to think about what I’m going to do when that happens. It’s a little daunting. There may actually be some action there.

Despite the caution surrounding this area of the future, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude for having the opportunity to learn from so many industry professionals, both this year and years past; the chance to connect with some wonderfully encouraging writers; and the context to think through what art is in my life and how I engage that as a Christian. I feel so blessed that I have been given the calling that I have and so honored that God reveals himself to me through the written word.

This weekend was full of lovely reminders and great gratitude.

Thank you to everyone who put this lovely time together and for letting me join your motley crew. Thank you for those willing to share what they’ve learned on the journey with grace and encouragement.