WHAT DOES A PERFECT FATHER LOOK LIKE?
No man can be the perfect father. Just like I can’t be the perfect mother, sister, daughter, wife or mom. I’d like to be, but I’m not. I can’t. It’s not possible, because we’re all human.
Yet, all of us can imagine what that perfect father might look like. Maybe he’s a combination of Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, Atticus Finch and Jean Val Jean—only their best parts, their scenes and dialogue that moved us the most. When we picture that, we’re getting closer to understanding who God is.
When I fall down, mess up, make the same mistake I’ve made over and over and wish I would never make again, yet find myself scuffed and bruised, how would I hope the perfect father would handle it? I’d want him to ask me where it hurts. Get out a bottle of peroxide. Clean up my wounds and hold me until I stopped shaking. Later, when I’m a bit calmer, he’d talk me through what happened, help me strategize how to prevent from falling down again.
When something interesting or hilarious happened during my day, I imagine the ideal father putting down his phone or his newspaper, looking me in the eye and listening to every word of my story, like it mattered, like I matter.
If I were having relationship trouble, I’d like to think the perfect father would make us both steaming mugs of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and sit down with me on the couch… and listen. Then he’d share with me how he wishes my friends would treat me, how He hopes I’ll interact with the people in my life, what he hopes others see in me. How he expects me to behave. If it were boy trouble, he’d proceed to tell me the kind of guy he always dreamed I’d marry, the attributes he’d like the man I end up with to have—things like integrity and faith and honesty.
As a busy mom of four, I know I don’t always listen fully or comfort before I criticize. Sometimes I try to fix a problem when my child wants me to listen or just offer perspective. I’m far from perfect. But I know how passionately I love my children. That even in my flaws, I want to be fully present for them always and to help them grow into the very best versions of themselves.
If I want that for my kids…I can’t even imagine how much God wants that for us. And since God is perfect, he always gets it right. He’s never distracted or too busy for us. He never shoos us away or gives us half answers. He never ignores us or treats us unfairly. He always guides us on glorious paths and loves us with perfect love.
That’s what the perfect Father looks like. That’s how He loves you and me.
So, the thing I’m most thankful for is God—the perfect Father. It is through Him that a table of Thanksgiving is before me. That the people I love so dearly are gathered around it. That a feast of plenty is spread across it. My thanks are for God who sent His only son, Jesus, to save me and to save you. It is to Him that I owe all of my thanks.
Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures. —James 1:17-18
There’s been a lot of chatter about the article in Time, Are Disney Princesses Hurting Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem?
I have a lot of friends who cringe at the word “princess”, who smirk at the mention of “Prince Charming”, but me, I grew up wishing I was Cinderella. It’s not that I had a wicked stepmother. My mom is the most generous, loving, giving woman I’ve ever met. But the idea of scrawny, nerdy me with ribs poking out, giant glasses and a propensity to bump into and trip over everything in sight possibly having someone fall in love with me? Well that sounded too good to be true, but awfully nice to dream about.
Disney princesses are not evil. They’re fantasy. And, I find them quite inspiring. Some of the princesses in question were originally published in a book in 1812 by the brothers Grimm. Disney’s Snow White released back in 1937. If you’re concerned about how women are portrayed in these classic tales, take a moment to consider other media put out in those years and how women were depicted; consider the culture they were released in. But if there is anything in a Disney movie, or any movie for that matter, that goes against your beliefs or values, you have a choice. You get to choose if you or your family watches. And once you make that choice, you have a responsibility to act upon that choice. Parents, you can’t just pop in the DVD and disappear. You need to watch these movies with your kids and talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the characters, the lessons learned. There are some kick butt princesses out there—Merida from Brave, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, and Rapunzel from Tangled with her frying pan as a weapon and her decision to chop her locks and go brunette. These girls are way more recent than 1959’s Sleeping Beauty and much stronger and independent, as well. You might be sick of hearing “Let it Go,” but Elsa wanted nothing to do with a prince. She was fighting the battle of trying to please others, of her own self-doubts and insecurities. And her sister, Anna, learned that the real man of her dreams was not the apparently charming royalty, but the somewhat clumsy, singing-to-reindeer, ice merchant guy who loves her for who she is. Not bad lessons, these. Even older classics like Cinderella impress the value of good friends (Jacques and Gus), the idea we should never give up, and the concept of an amazing man rescuing us, which sounds a lot like Jesus to me. And that is someone to put my hope in.
The truth is, parents are responsible for guiding their children through all of their media choices, not just Belle and Ariel. And as we grow older, we are also responsible for our own media consumption. Fifteen minutes into The Wolf of Wallstreet as an adult and I had to turn it off. Maybe you loved it. Leo is an amazing actor and Scorsese one of the best filmmakers. But I couldn’t stomach the demoralization and objectification of women in the opening scenes. To me those fifteen minutes were capable of way more damage to a girl’s perception of what she’s supposed to look like and how she’s supposed to be treated than a lifetime of watching Beauty and the Beast. Ask yourself if you were more affected by reading a Disney picture book about Pocahontas every day after Kindergarten or 50 Shades of Gray as an adult? As a writer, I am a proponent of freedom of speech and of artistic expression. Artists should use their God-given gift of creativity to express themselves, to entertain, to make a statement. It is up to us to decide what media we feel is safe for our families and ourselves to consume. And that decision is personal and individual.
If Cinderella’s not your girl, you might like Mulan, the story of a young Chinese woman who becomes one of the greatest warriors in the Asian empire. Just like we have the right to freedom of speech in America, we also have the freedom to choose. So choose wisely for yourself and your family. If the media you’re consuming hardens your heart, goes against your core values, is something you turn off or shut down when someone else enters the room, reconsider. Choose music that inspires you and makes you dance. Choose shows that make you laugh, give you goosebumps, or teach you something new. Choose books that make you think and cry and hope and dream. Choose movies that do the same. And whether you’re selecting media for your children or for yourself be intentional about your choices.
I grew up longing for a Prince Charming, hoping one day The Perfect Guy would sweep me off my feet and change everything. After countless unhealthy relationships I was blessed to marry the man of my dreams, but my awesome husband can’t be perfect. He’s human after all. But there is a Perfect Guy for me, and for you, but that guy, is Jesus. That idea imprinted on me as a girl dreaming of being Cinderella, that someday, somehow, someone would rescue me, was real. Someone would. Someone did. I just didn’t understand my Prince was the Prince of Peace. I certainly don’t blame Disney for my misunderstanding. If anything it cemented my desire to be rescued, so when Jesus did rescue me, I craved it, I grabbed His hand and let Him take me away from my old life and into my new.
What are your thoughts on princesses old and new and how they shape our views? Do you have a favorite princess?
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang to me when I listened to them non-stop in junior high.
“The greatest of these is love,” the Bible reminded me in 1 Corinthians 13 as I searched for answers and understanding of this life.
And they were both right. Only I didn’t know where to find love. So I looked in all of the wrong places. I searched for love in the form of approval – maybe if I got good grades I would be loved, if I got great grades I’d have an even better chance. I searched for love in the eyes of guys I dated—maybe if they thought I was pretty, or funny, or fun they’d love me, I’d be loved. I looked for love in my job—if I succeeded, did another deal, got another promotion my co-workers would respect me, my boss would be proud of me, and those things are kind of like love, aren’t they?
Kind of. But not really. Because all of those types of love slip through our fingers. They’re temporary. There will always be another test to take, another dance to find a date to, and another deal to land. Once the quick fix of approval is over, the buzz of being sought or appreciated dies down, so does the love. Where are you looking for love today?
There is one true love. A love so real, so true, and so fulfilling I can’t get my mind or arms around it. It is the love of Jesus. His love letter to us is the Bible. It starts with Him creating the world, a beautiful place for us to live, because He loves us. He created each of us, exactly how we are, no matter what are grades are, no matter what are relationship status is, no matter what size or shape we are, no matter how successful by worldly standards we are. God’s love letter goes on to explain what He’s done, what He will do for us. He’ll part seas for us. He’ll knock down walls for us. He’ll pull us out of fiery furnaces. He’ll slay our giants. And then, as if that weren’t enough to show us how deeply and completely He loves us—Jesus will take all of our imperfections and mistakes and wash them clean. I mean, who does that? Only someone who loves us utterly and unconditionally.
All the years that I searched for love on Valentine’s Day, that I longed for an extra special heart to be stuffed in my decorated box, or for flowers to be delivered at my door, or for Prince Charming to arrive on his white steed, I already had love all along, and so do you. Jesus loves you. He made you. He died for you. And He wants to be your Valentine.
And once we truly let that sink in, allow His love to flow over us, stop trying so hard and comparing ourselves to all the people and things we are not—that we were never intended to be—once we realize we were created to be exactly who we are, and that we are loved for our individual priceless unique selves, then we can feel the real love of God that completes us. And when we accept that true love, we can also begin to love ourselves, to see ourselves for our true lovely selves, see our true reflections. And once we know where to find true love, then we can realize love IS all we need and the greatest of these IS love.
I’d to hear your favorite Valentine’s recipes or traditions or your favorite parts of God’s love letter. Share in the comments section below.
What are your little addictions?
Some of mine include: Starbucks, music, nail polish (no chips please, different colors on toes and fingers), exercise (I don’t care with who, or what or when, but I crave it), my phone (sad but true).
What are some of yours?
Maybe your addiction list includes; nachos, getting all A’s, your job, the beach, your sport/instrument/club/activity, Instagram, your best friend, a TV show, fashion, your boy friend…
Our lists could go on and on of the fun little interests, innocent cravings and even important responsibilities and relationships we’re “addicted” to. But when does a passion or interest become an “addiction”? When do these things that fill our minds and hours become modern day idols?
WHEN WE OVERDESIRE THEM.
See, it’s not the desiring that’s a problem. God created coffee beans and cocoa beans and the guy you have a crush on. He created your brain and your body and wants you to use them to glorify Him.
But when our little addictions conflict with or create tension with our family, our wallet, our values, our faith, when our “addiction” becomes more important than God, when we OVERDESIRE it, we’ve got a problem.
How do I mean?
I often plot out my morning to include a stop by my local Starbucks. I love my coffee. I get excited every morning when the aromatic smell wafts towards my nose, when the bold, rich flavor hits my tongue. And this is okay. God wants us to have pleasure, to enjoy this world and this life. He gave me taste buds that are receptive to the flavor of an iced venti with mocha and nonfat milk. But when I skip my quiet time with Him in the morning to make sure I get a coffee, when I’m late getting my kids to school or I show up late to a meeting, because I “needed” a coffee, this is an over desire. This is a problem.
Do you have a friend you adore? Someone who makes you laugh and truly gets you? It’s great to spend time with them, to text them throughout the day about funny things, things you’re stressed about, or to plan adventures or weekends together. But when you lie to someone who’s close to you, so you can go somewhere with that friend or to cover up for that friend, there’s a problem.
See the pattern? So how do we rein in our addictions? How do we keep our pleasant little every day desires from becoming something we obsess over?
First, ask ourselves if we are seeking affirmation from these things we adore. Because we do sometimes, don’t we? We seek affirmation from the coolest nail art to the fastest time on the 10K to the most followers on Twitter. We do. But truly our entire identity, all of our affirmation should come from Christ who created us.
That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Gal 5:26 MSG
Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.
Once we wrap our arms around this truth, we need to turn it over to Him in prayer.
When I have a morning where going to Starbucks will stretch my wallet, make me late, or cause unnecessary stress as I try to squeeze it into a tight schedule, I can pray, “Jesus, You are the only thing that truly satisfies me. Please let me drink you in this day, and feel you working in and through me. Let me taste Your goodness. Amen.” And then I can brew myself a cup in my Keurig and be thankful.
When your boyfriend or friend wants you to do something that compromises your values -- whether that’s gossiping or drinking or blowing off an assignment, and you’re craving their acceptance, pray something like this, “Please Jesus, I long for companionship, for love. I know that You are my constant companion, that You love me always. Please remind me of that love. Please fill me up with it. Let me realize it is better and fuller and more satisfying than any earthly relationship.”
And then read Bible verses (better yet, memorize a few) that will remind you of these things, that Jesus is enough. That in fact He’s everything we need. That we should crave Him, long for Him, seek Him and seek to please Him, and we will be valued and loved and treasured.
Here are some that help me:
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ~Psalm 139:14
God not only loves you very much but also has put His hand on you for something special ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:4
It matters very little to me what you think of me, even less where I rank in popular opinion. I don’t even rank myself. Comparisons in these matters are pointless ~1 Corinthians 4:3
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. ~Galatians 5:1
My characters in my new novel, It’s Addicting, encounter these very types of addictions -- the fun things that seem innocent enough. Follow college roommates Kat, Claire, Hannah and Palmer as they learn, explore, grow, discover and sometimes fall prey to their over desires in this third installment of the Status Updates series.
What about you? Have any addictions you'd like to share?
I am so excited to share with you my latest release, It's Addicting. It's Addicting releases July 14 in both print and e-book formats from Playlist Fiction.
This third installment of the Status Updates series finds four college sophomore roommates finally getting comfy with the routines of dorm life. But Kat, Claire, Palmer, and Hannah soon begin to feel the nagging ache of innocent addictions pulling them away from their true selves. Still, obsessing over perfection, exercise, or a super-cute boyfriend could never be a bad thing—could it? Hang out with these four roomies to see if they can—or even want to—ditch these sneaky little hang-ups before they take over their lives.
'I'm so glad to see Laura L. Smith writing about such serious and important issues. Kudos to her for being brave enough to write the truth. ~ New York Times Best Selling Author, Tosca Lee
It's Addicting tackles real-life issues with raw honesty. This book is something every high-school and college-aged girl should read.
~ Nicole O'Dell, author, speaker, and founder of Choose NOW Ministries
Laura L. Smith writes with precision and honesty in the third book of her popular Status Update series. It’s Addicting asks readers to consider their own lives and the blinders we all wear. The college roommates in this book struggle with the most authentic of issues—the sometimes subtle but often overwhelming addictions we all cling to. In the end, the answers aren’t easy or pretty, but Smith, with characteristic gentleness, pushes readers to see that clarity and hope come from one place—a God who seeks us as fiercely as we seek Him. ~Laura Anderson Kurk, author of Glass Girl and Perfect Glass
SEEING THROUGH STONES
Today’s guest post is written by my friend and fellow, Playlist Fiction author, Rajdeep Paulus. She discusses inner strength, character development and her latest release, Seeing Through Stones, the sequel to her heart wrenching debut young adult novel, Swimming Through Clouds (both from Playlist Fiction).
At a recent book signing for Seeing Through Stones, an attendee asked the question, “Where does Talia (the protagonist) get her strength?”
Talia, as those of you who read Swimming Through Clouds know, has a heart-breaking background, one of which will require her to muster immense strength to get through. But like the average human (we’re talking all of us who don’t have super powers), she cannot hurdle life’s struggles without help. Talia’s help comes in a tri-fold package.
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Primarily, the first book opens with Talia finding a Post-it note. And then a second. And then several more. Her initial source of strength trickles into her heart via the words of a boy, Lagan, who is smitten over her. He not only drops petals of hope in her pathway, but he also asks her questions, never demands an answer, and shares his heart with her in little yellow square sheets. When their relationship develops to more face-to-face conversations, Lagan promises to “fight for her.” So, the hero has a crush on Talia, and as she starts to fall for him, she finds strength in him.
Talia’s second source of strength comes from her mother, or rather the memories of her mom. Talia remembers some of her deceased mother’s words, especially the plea to take care of Jesse, her brother. Deep down, Talia wants to honor her mother’s broken hearted life by not giving up, and perhaps fulfilling some of her mother’s extinguished dreams in her own life. In Seeing Through Stones, Talia has escaped the wrath of her life and found sanctuary at a women’s shelter. The women at the shelter are another huge source of strength for Talia, sharing their stories to remind Talia she’s not alone, suggesting ways to fight back she had never thought of before and filling in some of the gaps of the mom she’s lost.
Finally, the source of strength that allows Talia a new perspective of her life, shows her purpose, and reminds her of her worth comes from a Friend who speaks to her at a garden and in her dreams. A Friend she cannot see. He is referred to as The Gardener. I never name who The Gardener is, but I use symbolism to point readers to see He is no one other than Jesus. Thinking of how C.S. Lewis created Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, I longed to create a character who offered the main character hope in a way no human could. When I placed Talia under the willow tree in Chicago’s Botanical Garden, the idea of The Gardener naturally arose.
What I love about The Gardener is His ability to speak to Talia through nature. The broken branches of the willow. A sunny or cloudy day. The dirt of the earth. I also treasure the fact that He slowly becomes the father figure Talia always longed for. But my favorite aspect of their relationship is the freedom Talia has to disagree with Him. To not embrace everything He says without questioning Him. To not always get answers. I think these details authenticate Talia’s journey with The Gardener, because the strongest relationships are the ones that have been tested, and His omniscient nature allows Him to show up, regardless of Talia’s day or situation.
In the end, I think Talia’s journey is not unlike our own. We need friends and family to help us through the madness of this life. Similarly, our pasts shouldn’t dictate our futures, but we are shaped by what we’ve been through and by loved ones who have left us. Finally, many of us depend on someone bigger than ourselves. God. The Creator. The one who invented love, faithfulness, peace, and hope.
And if by changing Jesus’ name to The Gardener, a few more people connect with the universal longing to be loved and accepted, pursued and treasured, Talia’s journey will be more than a success for me.
Ultimately, all these sources bolster the muscles of Talia’s resolve and influence her not to give up. Because in the end, we all need someone who won’t give up on us. That’s what helps us to keep on keepin’ on. Yep. We all need that. Especially for those times when we give up on ourselves.
And you? Who is your source of strength? Ever receive a Post-it love note? Just curious.
I’m on spring break in the mountains of North Carolina, and it’s gorgeous. Well, the mountains are spectacular. The weather? Not so much. Forty-four degrees and cloudy isn’t ideal for hiking and cookouts, but our family certainly isn’t going to let a few clouds stop us. So, today, we’re at the indoor pool, swimming and splashing while it rains outside.
At the edge of the indoor pool sits a hot tub, so close to the edge of the pool you can reach out and touch it. Directly above the hot tub is a sign that reads MUST BE 16 OR OLDER TO ENTER HOT TUB.
There are three children, clearly under sixteen, I’m pretty sure under the age of six, whose bodies are in the pool, but they’re dangling their arms into the warm, bubbly cauldron of the hot tub. It’s so tempting. I’m sure their bodies are chilled from the damp week, and how can a warm bubble bath possibly harm them?
I know these are just kids in swimsuits, hair slicked back from the water, but I see Eve staring at that shiny, juicy apple hanging from the limb of a tree.
I know. I know. You’re a great swimmer. You take really hot baths at home. You’ll just be in for a minute. Other kids are in there. You saw them. You eat fruit all the time. You’re allowed to eat every other fruit in the entire garden. What could it hurt? This once? You might really learn something, gain something from it. The pretty serpent said so.
Hot tubs lower your blood pressure, and when you’re under sixteen that can equate to throbbing headaches, dizziness, nausea, even passing out. Passing out in water equals bad. And, we all know what happened to Eve when she ate that ripe piece of fruit.
I’ve experienced Spring Break temptations shouting out from every poolside, restaurant, bar, cute boy, beach, street and hotel first hand. And you don’t have to be on spring break to be surrounded by temptations. They’re everywhere. So wherever you’re headed for spring break, or if you’re on a staycation, or if you’re just in your normal daily routine, you will have opportunities today and tomorrow and the day after that to make good and bad choices. They’ll look fun, interesting, safe enough, potentially exhilarating, dare I say tempting, and like they couldn’t possibly hurt you.
But as someone who’s regretfully eaten a couple of pieces of forbidden fruit in my past, I want to let you know, there isn’t a single dangling apple I’ve ever tasted that didn’t give me a terrible “stomachache” not to mention remorse. Rules exist for reasons. We’re not ready to drive until we’re 16 or drink alcohol until we’re 21. There are speed limits and number of people in a room limits and city limits all for good reasons, even when we can’t see what they are.
God is strong and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use, so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. Eph 6: 10-11
Look for the signs that say, “warning,” “attention,” “caution”. They aren’t always in print or mounted on walls, but they’re usually pretty visible. Listen to God’s voice. Do your temptations contradict His word, what He’s called you to do? If so, you might want to think twice before you dive in or reach up.
Where are you headed for Spring Break? Do you think you’ll run into any temptations?
Life is full of choices. This morning you probably had to decide what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, and what music to listen to while you were getting ready.
You may have noticed, as you get older, the choices you make will have a greater impact on yourself and on others. Some of your decisions are more difficult, have more serious outcomes, like what school to attend, which classes to take, who to hang out with, should you date, what should you do when your friends make bad choices and so many more.
Will you make the right choices?
To make the right choices you need to equip yourself. There is an incredible free resource for teens and their parents to help guide you through some of these decisions through faith based living. It’s aptly named Choose Now. Choose Now discusses relevant topics including; FRIENDSHIPS and DREAMING BIG and GIRL TALK and DATING and FITNESS and HOLLYWOOD and BEAUTY, but not just about those things, but about how we make the right choices in all of those areas, the choices God longs for us to make, the choices that honor Him. Choose Now has columns by some of my favorite writer friends like Laura Kurk, Nicole O’Dell, Stephanie Morrill and Bethany Jett and podcasts discussing everything from frenemies to Spring Break from the latest nail polish colors to sex.
“If you’ve gotta start sometime why not now, if you’ve got to choose somewhere why not here?” Toby Mac
I’ve been blessed to be writing a column on Choose Now about True Beauty, one of my favorite subjects, for over a year. But as a result of me being a part of this ministry, I’ve been blessed by the insights of all of the other contributors. It’s too great a resource to keep to myself. I know too many young women and their parents who are grappling with all of these same issues. So if you’re a teen searching for answers or a parent of a teen longing to give her personal space, but also wanting to guide her in positive decision-making, this is a site you’ve got to check out. You owe it to yourself.
Here’s the link that will get you to all these free resources in one great place.
And if you like what you see, how this ministry guides teens and their parents to follow Christ’s plans for us, to embrace His love and the roles He’s given us, to stand up for what we believe in and the promises He gave us, here’s how you can help further this ministry.
FURTHER THIS MINISTRY BECAUSE REAL LIFE HAPPENS
What decisions are you facing today? How do you plan to choose?
The much anticipated sequel to the Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill released this week from Playlist Fiction.
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“I’m carving out my own place in the world, and I get to choose what it looks like and who I’ll bring with me.” Ellie Sweet
The only problem is, in the Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet, Ellie is trying to decipher what her place in the world truly entails, while untangling her mixed up emotions of which relationships in her life are worth fighting for.
Sounds like all of us in a way, doesn’t it? In this sequel to The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, Ellie finds being a published teen author isn’t all glamour. In fact there’s a lot of stress and backstabbing. Ellie is also still torn between the gorgeous Southern charmer playboy, Palmer, and the dark, handsome, intriguing, guy with a past, Chase. As Ellie decodes her heart, she discovers the path and the person she should choose to be isn’t necessarily good or bad, but what and who is best for her. Morrill identifies with the life of a teenager so well, the reader imagines Morrill herself, is a teen writer taking English class at the local high school. The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet is a spot on story of how we all have insecurities and how answers aren’t always black and white. Readers of Meg Cabot and Sarah Dessen will devour this contemporary tale. Ellie is so genuinely well intentioned yet humanly flawed, I would love to hang out with her or have her as a critique partner. And, I’d definitely want to borrow one of her t-shirts.
The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet picks up right where the prequel left off. For once, Ellie Sweet has it all together. Her hair now curls instead of fuzzes, she’s tamed the former bad-boy, Chase Cervantes (she has, right?), and her debut novel will hit shelves in less than a year. Even her ex-friends are leaving her alone. Well, except for Palmer Davis, but it can’t be helped that he works at her grandmother’s nursing home.
Life should feel perfect. And yet, it’s not that easy. Ellie’s editor loves her, but the rest of the publishing biz? Not so much. And they’re not shy about sharing their distrust over Ellie’s unlikely debut.
Ellie has always been able to escape reality in the pages of her novel, but with the stress of major edits and rocky relationships, her words dry up. In fiction, everything always comes together, but in real life, it seems to Ellie that hard work isn’t always enough, the people you love can’t always be trusted…and the dream-come-true of publishing her book could be the biggest mistake she’s made yet.
Stephanie Morrill lives in Overland Park, Kansas with her husband and two kids. Her only talents are reading, writing, and drinking coffee, so career options were somewhat limited. Fortunately she discovered a passion for young adult novels and has been writing them ever since.
Stephanie is the author of The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series, The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet, and the award-winning Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft into a Published Book. She enjoys encouraging and teaching teen writers on her blog,www.GoTeenWriters.com. You can also find her online at www.StephanieMorrill.com
Don't forget to leave a comment below for a chance to win an e-copy of The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet. One winner will be chosen randomly from all comments submitted by Friday, November 15.
Today I'm talking with Laura Anderson Kurk. If you know me, then you probably know by now, she and I are kindred writing spirits. Although she lives in Texas, and I live in Ohio, there are times when I grab my phone and start dialing before I've even thought about it, because I NEED to talk to her. And almost daily there are instances, when my fingers fly across my keyboard consulting, celebrating and commiserating with her over "writing stuff". Tomorrow she releases Perfect Glass, the sequel to her novel, Glass Girl. You will fall in love with it! Today we discuss how Perfect Glass came to be, so tomorrow you'll be ready to dive into a book that will absolutely absorb you.
You write Perfect Glass from two point of views, Henry and Meg. Was this difficult?
When I first wrote Perfect Glass, the entire story was from Henry's POV. I loved it. My agent and editor didn't. They felt the book would be enjoyed by more readers if I added Meg's voice. That's why you'll find the switching narration. And now that the book is done, I see how much stronger it is to have both points of view. Both stories show the development in Meg and Henry and allow readers to see Meg through Henry's eyes and to see Henry through Meg's eyes. Getting to write Henry's words as he describes Meg's beauty and how much he loves her, was my favorite part of writing this book.
Readers wonder if writing from multiple POVs is difficult. The difficulty (as you know) is in making sure you're staying true to each character's voice and tone. Readers are sensitive to the pitch of a narrator's voice and if they sense something off-key, it pulls them out of the story. Making sure I had the voices just right was the trickiest aspect of writing this book.
How did you stay in character?
I wrote Henry's entire story first and lived in his head for a few months. Then when I had it perfect, I wrote Meg's entire story. That way, I didn't have to force myself in and out of character. I think that would've made me crazy. Once I had both stories the way I wanted them, I joined them. Chapter by chapter, I wrote in connecting elements that made the two stories interlocking. The common ground came in the fact that both Meg and Henry are learning what it means to love people who are considered unlovable. They're both learning to put away selfishness and grow up. They're both struggling with ego, but learn a lot about themselves. The novel's epigraph is an old quote (paraphrased) "calamity is the perfect glass in which we can truly see and know ourselves." The calamity Henry and Meg each face becomes the mirror that lets them finally see themselves clearly.
Was one of their voices easier for you to write?
Believe it or not, I'm more comfortable writing Henry. I have a theory about this . . . I think it's because there's more of me in Meg and I've never been great at understanding the nuances of my own personality. Meg -- holy cow. She's just complicated and because she's a lot like me, it was hard for me to see her objectively. That dilemma actually lends a lot of truth to Meg's character, though, so I think she comes off as honest and raw and real. As an observer, I've known so many guys who are like Henry. I've studied them. I know their mannerisms and speech patterns. I know how their brains work and what affects them. So I was able to construct Henry with a really objective eye.
Meg and Henry are dealing with a long distance relationship. While Henry is out of town, a new student, Quinn (who is clearly interested in Meg) arrives. If you were Meg, which boy would you choose and why?
Oh, there's no question my heart would remain with Henry. But...can I be real? I have a weakness for boys who understand literature and poetry and songwriting. Boys who get Whitman and can talk to me about the Harlem Renaissance in easy conversation. In the same way, Quinn is definitely interesting to Meg. He reminds her of the urban, sophisticated kind of guys she knew in Pittsburgh. And he reminds her more importantly, of the brother she lost. She wants Quinn in her life, but she knows Henry is her future. Henry opened a new world up for Meg, and she's head over heels in love with him.
Most high school stories would be incomplete without the school dance, including yours. There is so much hype surrounding homecoming, prom, etc. Do you have a distinct high school dance memory?
Oh my lands. Yes, I do. Dare I dredge it up and share it with your readers? What to do...what to do...
I was a late bloomer. A wallflower. Not noticed by guys. Ever. But for some reason, my junior year, the best looking but most dangerous boy in my class took an interest in me. He would laugh now hearing how I describe him. He was tall, blonde, cocky, and WILD. At least that's my memory. He made me so nervous. I was timid, rail thin, and naive. You know, the girl who'd never been kissed.
He asked me to prom and I almost didn't say yes because I thought I'd die of nerves. My best friend talked me into saying yes. I was nervous the whole night and, when he drove me home, I was so afraid he'd try to kiss me goodnight that I almost threw up in his car. In fact, I had dry heaves sitting in his passenger seat. Loud, dry heaves that went on and on. Is there anyway to recover from that? Nope. You gotta live with that nightmare the rest of your life. No sanctuary from a dry heaving past.
What's your dream prom dress?
I'm not a follower of fashion, to be honest. I like when I see girls who dare to look different because it seems like, these days, every girl is trying to look like the same person. When I see a girl brave enough to look a little indie or alternative, I silently cheer for them in my head. (not out loud because indie types do NOT want to be noticed in that way.) My favorite formal dresses are always very vintage. I dress Meg and her friend, Abby, in vintage dresses for Winter Dance. I just think it's important to look like a class act, because you'll stand out in the sea of too tight, too short, too low cut dresses. And take care that you don't look like you're headed to a pageant, either, with the overdone makeup and stiff hair. Imagine how that looks from a guy's perspective. I think guys probably prefer soft makeup and natural, soft hair. Anything more and you just look plastic.
If I were seventeen and shopping for prom, I'd be looking for a dress like this.
I love the relationship Meg has with a painter in this story. I understand your mom is a painter. How much of her did you pour into this book?
My mom does paint and she's really good, but it's a hobby for her. So some of Jo Russell's thoughts and attitudes came from my mom, but the deepest and greatest parts of Jo Russell came from one of my best friends--Mara Schasteen. The book is dedicated to Mara. Our lives intersected in Texas when we were young moms together. I can't begin to tell you how indelible an impression Mara made on my heart and soul. We survived a lot of things together, but more than that, we met each other in a place where we were starved for beauty and art and kindness. We were able to enrich each other in a lot of ways.
Mara is a brilliant painter. I want people to see the world through her eyes. It's a beautiful, wondrous, God-filled place. I describe one of Mara's paintings in Perfect Glass. Henry dreams that Meg has painted it.
Much of the artistic words and phrases and technical aspects of painting that you find in Perfect Glass came from Mara. She's the one who described the wet dog smell of a studio full of primed linen canvas. She's the one who once pointed out that everything in the world has just a touch of ultramarine violet in it. It's not that I interviewed her. These are things that came to me from having a relationship with her and knowing her heart and her art. Jo Russell, the artist in Perfect Glass, is seriously one of my all-time favorite characters I've created. I could live in her world for a long while and never get bored.
What have you learned about the art of writing from Mara's and your mom's art?
I've learned all art is the impulse to create. That's an impulse given to all humans by the original Creator. Even Eminem was given the impulse to create by God. He may not realize it or acknowledge it, but that's where he got that desire.
From fine artists, I've learned that beauty is there for the taking and it's everywhere -- even in the things that look ugly at first glance. I've learned inspiration comes in the act of creating.
I've learned writers build stories in exactly the same way fine artists build a painting. If you watch an artist, you think they're crazy when they first start working on a canvas. They're staring at a waterfall and painting random crooked lines. But if you watch a while, it clicks. And you finally see what they've seen in their heads the whole time. Then it builds and builds. Mara says her favorite part of a painting is when she's almost done and she's adding the magic. Suddenly things move and shine and shimmer. Suddenly eyes look alive and faces look warm. Suddenly nature looks energetic like you could walk right into her trees. All this happens with calculated brush strokes.
It's the same with writing. I start with the bones, spare and barely there. Then I build the muscle and fat and skin. Then I add the curves and the meeting places, where parts of story meet like parts of a body meet. And finally I add the magic - the precise rhythm and heart of the story. The singular words that make a reader stop breathing for a second so she can hear me. That connection right there, between me and a reader, is beautiful and tender. It's a shared experience. Readers don't often realize that they're giving me as much as I'm giving them. Just imagining their thoughts as they read my thoughts blows my mind.
To experience Laura Anderson Kurk's magic first hand, download Perfect Glass by clicking on it's title or cover.
Laura L. Smith