Praise In The Storm

This morning during my hour-long commute to work, I listened to the radio waves fill my car with music in a break from the constant flow of bad news that seems to be everywhere this week. I was struck by the following lyrics of a song from the group Casting Crowns:

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

I thought the message appropriate for two reasons. First, it was actually raining pretty hard at the moment – seriously. Second, in light of this week’s horrific events, it’s a reminder that God is always present no matter the circumstances, and that we should always praise Him and give Him thanks. His grace and mercy, though sometimes difficult to see, is always there. We should hope to have the faith that, in the face of personally traumatic events, stands firm and remains unshaken.

I can’t think of a better example at the moment than Horatio Spafford. Upon learning of the deaths of his four daughters who drowned during a tragic trans-Atlantic voyage, Spafford wrote the lyrics to the hymn, It Is Well With My Soul:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Writing Good Fiction Is Like….

Every now and then, my duties around the house include the occasional evening when I’m responsible for cooking dinner. And by cooking, I really mean picking something up through a drive-through lane. But, once in a while, I get the itch to actually prepare something myself. Usually this entails sweating over a grill on our patio, not to mention an hour or so of prep work in the kitchen whereby I leave a destructive trail over everything my wife has tried hard to keep clean and spotless. Suffice it to say I’m not allowed to cook on a frequent basis, and I’m actually in agreement with that stance.

One of the dinners I like to prepare, or actually have more of a fondness of, is chili. The prep work, after all, is outrageously messy. As I was sorting through some recipes from Grady Spears (and if you aren’t familiar with Chef Spears and his Reata Restaurant Group then you’re missing out!), it struck me that writing good fiction is a lot like making good chili.

There are some basics that have to be mastered. Let’s face it, if you don’t include meat, red onions, and garlic in just the right amount of chicken stock then you’re not making good chili. Once the basics are down cold, that’s where a good batch of chili can shine – by adding a few pinches of something different and unique. Maybe it’s using Mexican oregano or tabasco sauce. Maybe a dash of pasilla powder. Whatever they may be, they make that particular bowl of chili stand out from the others and give it its own flavor.

It’s the same with writing good fiction. The basics of grammar, plot structure, dialogue, active tense, and points of view have to be learned until they become second nature, even instinctual. Without them our story will be flawed. Once they’ve been mastered, we’re free to add our own unique blends to the manuscript that can elevate it to the next level. Developing our voice, weaving detailed descriptions, and writing in the deep points of view of each of our characters are some of those personal blends that make our manuscripts one of a kind. And, like good chili, should leave people wanting more.

A Debut Author’s Journey

I’ve always been drawn to emotional stories, especially those about redemption and second chances.  About a year ago, I finished my first draft of Sunrise – a story about a tragic school shooting and its aftermath as told through the perspectives of a high school student, his mother, and his guardian angel.

I was so excited with the completion of the manuscript that I just knew agents would be foaming at the mouth to sign me as their client. So, I began to query…and query…and query.  After my rejection list rivaled the number of customers a Starbucks serves on a daily basis, I wondered if something might just be wrong with literary agents these days. Alas, that humorous thought dissipated in a nanosecond, and I was left with the stark reality that the problem might be in the mirror.

Well, that began a quest to beef-up and polish my manuscript. With the assistance of critique groups and reference materials on perfecting the craft of writing good fiction, I dissected the story and labored to improve it.

Now, after countless edits and re-writes, this debut author is ready to dive back into the fray, hoping to make it to the top of the slushpile and share a good story. Wish me luck!