“It’s always best to start at the beginning.” ~ Glinda
I have three soccer kids, and one child who doesn’t even like to kick the ball. He also doesn’t like to dribble, throw, or pass a ball of any kind. He’s tried hockey and Tae Kwon Do, but sports are not his thing. Which is fantastic! I’m so proud of Maguire for realizing and recognizing that despite his three siblings running off to practices and games in uniforms with numbers on their backs, that this is not for him.
But I do want him to find his happy place. Because I love him. Because I firmly believe God has created each of us for greatness, but it’s our job to search for those things that light us up inside, and then do lots of those things, to help us see our true reflections.
This fall another mom met Maguire, looked at me and said, “He sounds exactly like our son. You need to get him into theatre.” Her words took me off guard. How did she know in the back of my head I’d been thinking drama might be the exact thing that would excite Maguire? He’s creative and funny. He loves dressing up and he does one heck of a Mr. Bean imitation. I’d half-searched for ways to get him involved before in plays, but this was the catalyst I needed to seek out theatre opportunities. I asked around, did web searches, contacted the theatre department at the university, the drama department of the public schools, and our local thespian group. Zero opportunities for kids. Maybe this wasn’t the path we were supposed to be following. But then… I was at my daughter’s high school and happened upon a sign announcing the cast for The Wizard of Oz.
“Follow the yellow brick road?” ~Dorothy
At the bottom it read: Munchkins to be announced. Was it too late? I emailed the teacher in charge (who also happens to be Maguire's art teacher at his grade school). She responded almost immediately, “I was actually getting ready to email you about this. I think Maguire would be a great Munchkin. If he's interested, we’d love to have him! Oh, and rehearsals start tomorrow.”
Get out! What had seemed like a lark, and then a dead end, all of a sudden fell perfectly together. It was as if God orchestrated every step of the way along a winding road through poppies, past witches and to the Emerald City itself. Are you at a dead end today? Keep your eyes peeled, God is at work, behind the scenes arranging amazing opportunities.
At rehearsal a dozen or so 2nd and 3rd graders nervously looked around taking in the thick, green velvet curtains and bright stage lights. The night was simple. Kids sitting next to parents, hesitantly singing the words on their scripts. As rehearsals continued, munchkins moved to the seats by the stage, away from their parents, stood while they sang, and were selected for specific roles. Maguire was cast in the Lollypop Guild. Soon they no longer needed their scripts. The first night Maguire was allowed to rehearse on the actual stage, he came home proclaiming he wanted to be an actor when he grows up, or maybe a movie producer.
“Follow the yellow brick road!”~Mayor of Munchkin City
This weekend were his performances. They made this mama weep for joy. It’s been a gift to watch the kids grow--memorizing their lines, taking cues, learning their dances, and taking on the persona of munchkins in a magical land. I don’t know if Maguire will act in one more play, or a dozen, or become the movie producer he’s currently envisioning, but what completely blows me away is how God brought him to this place. When neither my son nor I knew what he wanted to do, God did. God knows where you need to be as well. And He will get you there, one yellow brick at a time. When I saw Maguire on stage, beaming and dancing, cowering from the Witch, and waving goodbye to Dorothy, he was radiant, and I know, for now, he has found his happy place, his special kind of beautiful, his true reflection (which happens to be wearing bright orange suspenders and striped socks).
"There is a garden spot, I'm told. Where it's never too hot and it's never too cold. Where you're never too old. Where you're never too thin or tall. And you're never, never, never, too, too anything at all." ~Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion
This song about the Emerald City makes it sound so grand. But God's plans for you are even greater! Where is God calling you today? What lights you up? Seek it and He’ll help you get there. Be patient. There may be dead ends (or winged monkeys or spooky forests) along the way. But God does have a path laid out for you. A brilliant one. It might not be paved with yellow bricks, but then again it just might be.
I always suspected that there was something of goodness in me, but I just couldn’t find it. Until one day—one day I discovered it here, in my heart. I found it…goodness. And ever since that day, I have always known who I was. And now, nothing can touch me. ~Miguel
How does a gang member in Los Angeles find his goodness? Racial tension is ugly. Gang violence is ugly. Drugs are ugly. Los Angeles County is home to over 1100 active gangs comprising over 86,000 people. According to the LAPD, in the last three years over 16,400 violent crimes were attributed to gangs in the City of Angels. How can someone possibly find his or her worth in the midst of this?
Miguel found his beauty thanks to Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles who didn’t look at the drugs, or the crimes, or the violence, he didn’t look at the different ethnicities, or the rap sheets of his parishioners, but he looked at them as humans—as humans who were struggling to find and believe in their true value. Boyle saw a way to help gang members like Miguel find the true beauty not only in themselves, but in each other. He knew if the teens could start fresh, get a high school diploma, get a job, they could break cycles of poverty, be less reliant on the drug trade; begin to understand that they had skills and gifts. When Fr. Greg, or as his friends call him, “G”, talked to these teens, they wanted to go to school. But the schools wouldn’t take them, not with their records, their backgrounds. So, Boyle created a school for them.
And when they graduated who would hire them? As Boyle explained when I saw him speak in Cincinnati, “Surprisingly there wasn’t much of a job market for ex convicts.” Insert laughter of the crowd here. But again, the barriers of society didn’t stop G. He put on his entrepreneur hat and started his own company, Homeboy Bakery. Its purpose is “to create an environment that provides training, work experience and above all, the opportunity for rival gang members to work side by side.” Side by side? As in teaching people who have been raised to hate one another to appreciate each another, to respect one another. Boyle challenged listeners during his talk, “We belong to each other. How do we bridge the gap?” He continued to explain his motivation to bring these gang members together and to give them purpose, “What Jesus took seriously was inclusion and acceptance.” Good point.
Did it work? You bet. Not only did Homeboy Bakery take off, but it was the catalyst for Homeboy Industries, which now includes multiple businesses. It is recognized as the largest gang intervention and re-entry program in the world. The jobs, the opportunities, the new life Homeboy Industries has given the poor, marginalized, desperate gang population in L.A. blows me away. But what blows me away even more is story after story about how people who hated each other now love each other. Fr. Greg told one story about “homies” who just a few months ago were shooting bullets at each other, and now they’re shooting texts at one another”. He told more tales of individuals who had always despised each other who are now not only working side by side, but calling each other “brother” and “friend”. A miracle? Not really. Because this is how Jesus always envisioned things. Treating each other as we would like to be treated. But is it easy? Are we doing a good job at keeping the Golden Rule?
How did Fr. Greg do it? He saw these individuals for the beautiful creations they were made to be. He recognized their true beauty. He proclaims, “It is our job to hold the mirror up, tell people they are exactly what God had in mind when He made them, and watch people grow into that truth.”
What if we took a lesson from Father Greg, sought beauty in all humans, realized we all have potential, we all have talents, we all deserve to be loved? How can I hold up a mirror for someone else today? How can you? Show someone who they truly are, that they are exactly what God intended when He made them? We can start with ourselves. Go find a mirror, gaze into it, and say out loud, “You are exactly what God had in mind when He made you.” And we can watch ourselves grow into our own true beautiful reflections. Then we can point others towards the mirror, and let beautiful ripple effects take over.
The day my nephew Chad was born, no one would have imagined one day he’d be crowned king. No one, except God, because that is exactly how our Creator saw Chad all along.
And eighteen years later at a soggy, chilly, rainy football game in a suburb of Cincinnati, thanks to the amazing true beauty of his high school community, Kings, Chad was not only elected by his peers onto the homecoming court, but called to the throne with this announcement, “And this year’s homecoming king is no other than Chad Handorf!”
And the meek shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Yes, my sweet, smiling nephew who somehow sustains himself on chicken nuggets and pretzels, who always carries a coaches whistle, who has faithfully cheered the loudest at every single one of his three siblings’ games, who laughs and tells the most fantastic stories, who sings the loudest and proudest when the cousins go Christmas caroling each year, the boy who came too early, who had a list of medical problems, who survived against the odds, and who lives with the implications and limitations of Down Syndrome each and every day got to see a glimpse of how God sees him. He got to see his true reflection.
But wait, there’s more.
Chad is buddies with one of the girls on the homecoming court, Emily Lima. He was convinced he should invite her to homecoming. Even though she has a boyfriend. My sister-in-law insisted he not do it, because of the boyfriend. But Chad has always been a little stubborn. And so, he made a sign, held it up in class, and asked this girl to the dance. Emily said, “Yes, I will. I’d love to.” And so, she, her boyfriend, and Chad, well, they went to the dance together. It is only fitting, that this beautiful girl, who helped show Chad his true reflection, was crowned queen.
You know what true beauty looks like? My nephew, Chad, with a crown on his head, face beaming, knowing through and through that he is a child of the one true King.
“We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out,” is how one of my favorite Elvis songs, “Suspicious Minds”, begins. And as much as I love that song, especially the remake by the Fine Young Cannibals, there’s nothing melodious or harmonic about feeling trapped.
Trapped—you know that feeling of being stuck, of having the door slammed in your face and not knowing where to turn?
My fourteen-year old son has a summer birthday, making him one of the older kids in his class and one of the younger kids on his soccer team. The rest of his club team started high school this fall and tried out for their high school teams. Meanwhile, Max was left standing alone. It happens in sports, so often that there’s a term for it – Trapped Eighth Grader. Everything settles itself out in the spring, when all of the players of Max’s team will be free from their high school commitments, and they’ll all play together. Next fall, Max can try out for his high school team. But in the meantime, for this fall, he was officially trapped.
Max’s team had been yanked out from under his feet. What were we going to do? So, Max and I began praying about the situation.
We’d heard rumors of a team of home-schooled boys, who scrimmaged against some of the smaller high schools, but Max wouldn’t have known any of the players, and they’d all been playing together for years. We discussed hiring a soccer trainer to fine tune Max’s skills and keep him active, but not only was it expensive, Max wanted to play games. There was also talk of his club joining trapped eighth graders from a large geographical area to practice and scrimmage, but nothing ever materialized.
Then one day this summer, Max joined me for my morning jaunt to Starbucks. He wore his club soccer t-shirt, and while I was at one end of the line ordering my coffee, the barista at the other end of the counter started chatting with Max. By the time I got over to where Max was, the barista, who I’ve never seen working at my Starbucks before or since, was inviting Max to join in a standing pick up game of soccer. The players ranged from college boys to professors to community members who’d played high school or college club soccer, and still loved the game. They met twice a week, with no fees, at the park five minutes from our house. We walked out whispering to one another. It looked like God had answered our prayers.
Max has been playing with these guys ever since. And loving it. The players are first rate. Max gets tons of touches on the balls, lots of opportunities to learn and grow and shoot and score, and gets a great workout, without any pressure to start or win. This is not something Max or I or his soccer coach could have orchestrated. None of us knew these guys played. If I had, I would have never guessed my eighth grader would have been welcome. But he is. The other guys are super friendly and accepting of my son. Max and I could have never strategized that he should wear his club shirt to get noticed by a Starbucks worker I’m thinking was a sub. But God knew. He always does. And once again, He orchestrated something so perfect and out of the realm of my consideration that I am blown away. It didn't happen over night. It didn't become clear to us the first time we prayed about it. The first avenue we tried and the second and the third also were dead end streets. But God always had this in mind.
It is in Christ Jesus that we find out who we are and what we are living for. (Ephesians 1:11 MSG)
You see, we’re never really trapped. Sometimes it sure looks like it. Sometimes we’re suffering from an ailment or depression or a loss. Some days we get a rejection or a bad score or a bad review. But with God there is never a dead end. Jesus is The Way. And when we trust in Him, He always reveals the beautiful plan He’d intended for us all along.
You don’t have to figure the way through or out or over the slammed door in your life. But you do need to turn it over to God, and watch the amazing ways He’ll make you flat enough to slide under the door, strong enough to bust through the door, or reveal a secret passageway out, you’d never seen before. With Jesus there is no trapped, just pauses in the beautiful journey He’s walking with you.
I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. (Jeremiah 29:11 MSG)
What are you waiting for?
Summer is fantastic! But August always brings a flurry of back to schoolness. This means lists of things to do to get ready and lists of uncertainties as you wait to see…. if you made the team? Who your roommates will be? What dorm you're in? For someone to call/text/email you back? If you got the scholarship? If you got the job to help you pay for school? Maybe you're just waiting for a parking place or to get to the front of line at Chipotle and finally place your order as your stomach grumbles. But you might be waiting to see If you’ll be asked to homecoming. If you’ll make call backs for the audition. Are you waiting to see if you got Dr. Palumbo for Biology? For the movie you’ve been itching to see to come out on DVD? If your locker will be anywhere near your bff’s or at least near your classes? Maybe you’re waiting for test results or x-rays back from a doctor or waiting to hear if the seller accepted your offer.
There’s big stuff we wait for and small stuff we wait for, but it seems we end up spending way too much of our lives waiting. So, what to do when we find ourselves in the dreaded Waiting Place? In Oh The Places You’ll Go, Dr. Seuss describes it as this:
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No….
We sit around and wait and worry about the out comes. But Dr. Seuss tells us, "That's not for you!" And so does Jesus.
Do not be anxious about tomorrow. Matthew 6:34
What if while we’re waiting, we make a pact, you and I? What if we make a pact to be productive during our waiting?
Waiting to see if you got the job? How about you spend some time on Linked In writing endorsements for others you’ve been encouraged by, Google and then read some articles about the job you’re seeking and learn more about the field. Waiting for your nails to dry, or to board the plane or for the person you’re picking up to come out of the building? Grab a great book you’ve been meaning to read. Keep it with you at all times, and when those boring pauses occur, immerse yourself in words and story. Who knows, you might learn something new. Waiting to see if you made it? How about working on your skills – dribbling, drawing, playing octaves, rehearsing to get better at your talent no matter what the reply is to your most recent try out, submission or audition.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Phil 4:6
Let’s promise each other we’ll pray about it, pray for peace, for God to have His almighty hand in the outcome. Let’s praise God for the hallway while we’re waiting for Him to open the next door.
I L-O-V-E this song by John Waller, “While I’m Waiting”.
Next, know that whatever you’re waiting for God already knows the answer, and He’s planned it for your good.
If He already knows, why do we have to wait? If He already knows then can’t we play first chair, get the job, always be healthy, on time and be surrounded by our best friends all of the time? I don’t know about that. Because I don’t know if moving (or any other change in your life, any outcome you’re waiting for) will introduce you to your new best friend or future husband, or teach you something to help you later on, or strengthen your sibling or something else grand all together. But God knows. And He’s got your back.
I have it all planned out--plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11
If He’s got it all planned out, there really is no reason to worry. So, how are you going to get out of the Waiting Place today?
Have you ever had a hard week?
I am extremely blessed in so many ways, and honestly can’t praise God enough for all He does for me and my family, but as I write this, I’m in a rough week. This week has been rough with a capital R.
A fifteen-year old girl in our community lost her life, a family who has been a stronghold in our faith has been called to move to another state, a dear friend has been diagnosed with cancer. I’m okay. But I have to admit; I’m sad, reflective, and a bit weepy.
I know the teen is dancing with Jesus, the family has an amazing opportunity awaiting them and God will hold our sick friend in His comforting arms.
But I’m a still a bit weepy.
I was running with my daughter today, trying to process everything going on when a bluebird fluttered past us and landed in a tree directly above our heads. We stopped and watched his vibrant blue wings, so unnaturally bright against the bare branch. “The bluebird of happiness,” I said.
“Have you ever seen one before?” my daughter asked.
“A few times,” I answered. “But not many.
Bluebirds have been considered the harbinger of happiness for thousands of years by numerous cultures ranging from pre-modern China’s Shang Dynasty to the Beatles in their movie, Yellow Submarine.
Bluebirds act as God’s promise of happiness, like the rainbow to Noah. And if that wasn’t enough, we crossed the bridge, ran down the lane and came upon this.
I may not be able to make sense of some of the darker moments of the last week, or of life, but I don’t have to. God is with me every step of the way. He always is. Always has been. And just in case I forgot, even for a moment, He reminded me. Of His beauty. Of His love. Of His faithfulness.
“Never once did I ever walk alone. Never once did you leave us on our own. You are faithful, God, You are faithful.” Matt Redman
I hope you’re not in a dark place today, but if you are, hold on. Just a moment longer. Because around the bend or over the bridge or down the lane or tomorrow or next week your bluebird awaits you. God has it all set up – a moment of pure beauty and vibrancy and promise. You’re not walking this alone.
God is faithful.
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.
Today's guest post is by Jennifer Maggio, author of the new book Peace and the Single Mom. Her story blows me away and is a beautiful testament, that no matter where you are, no matter how much you wish you were somewhere else or someone else, there is hope. God has a beautiful plan for you. He's not finished with you yet.
And as a bonus of having Jennifer guest post here, we'll give away a copy of her new book. Just leave a comment on a way God has shown you He's not finished with you yet below for a chance to enter the drawing. And now, here's Jennifer's story.
I would love to tell you I had a “normal” childhood – whatever that is – but I didn’t. I didn’t frolic in the snow, drink hot cocoa, and enjoy snuggles with my parents on the sofa as we watched our favorite television program. Truth is, most of my childhood and teen years were spent in utter chaos.
My mother was killed when I was just a baby. Consequently, I was raised by my dad who used alcohol and women to mask the pain of losing my mother so unexpectedly. My dad married a total of six times, not including girlfriends in between the marriages. (Yep, you read that right!) I spent years suffering through sexual and physical abuse at the hands of many. My dad was not one of those abusers. He lived in a cloud for years, devastated by the pain he had endured.
Although I graduated high school valedictorian and class president (and was probably considered an overachiever by most), I became pregnant at only seventeen years old. I was desperate for someone to love me. I was desperate to have this hole in my heart filled. Maybe this new baby would create a bond between his father and me that would give me my “happily ever after.” As you may have guessed, it didn’t. I was a teen mom who had two children by the time I was nineteen. I was severely abused, chasing after a dead-end relationship that would have never worked. I lived in government housing using food stamps and welfare to help make ends meet with my low-paying job. I felt hopeless.
It was in my darkest hour that I found God. I hadn’t attended church in years, but my life was so dark, so lonely…maybe the church could help me. I made a decision to give the church thing a try again. I started attending regularly with my two small children. God slowly began to transform my heart. He healed the old wounds that had left me broken and bitter. He mended a heart that no longer chased after the temporary happiness this world offers. I finally had the strength to leave my old life behind. My Heavenly Father transformed my life, inside and out.
(as I read Jennifer's guest blog here, I can't help but sing Brandon Heath's song, "Wait and See" in my head. In case you are too, here you go ~Laura L. Smith)
Okay, sorry for the interruption. Now back to Jennifer --
Today, I spend my days encouraging single moms that they can make it. They can overcome. They can press through and press on. I work with youth to encourage sexual purity. I encourage hurting women with the love that only Jesus brings. I never thought I could be used by God for anything. When I was a kid, I just wanted to be normal. But God has shown me that none of us were called to be normal. We were called to be an extraordinary light for His glory.
Jennifer Maggio is the award-winning author of four books, including her latest release Peace and the Single Mom: 50 Moments of Calm in the Chaos. Her story has been featured in countless media venues. She is the founder of The Life of a Single Mom Ministries, a global nonprofit committed to empowering single mothers. For more information, visit www.thelifeofasinglemom.com.
Don't forget to leave a comment below about how God has given you hope for a chance to win an autographed copy of Peace & The Single Mom.
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