Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Open Rebuke is Better...

Ever had a friend that ALWAYS agreed with you?  No matter how much you swayed in your opinion or actions, they were there to lend their support, letting the words you wanted to hear fall from their lips like dripping honey?

I've had a few friends like that, and know a few acquaintances who are similar.  However, they don't remain my friends for long.  Not because I don't like what they have to say, on the contrary - their words are soothing, comforting and encouraging - but because flattering words are not what I NEED in  my life.  I need truth, honesty and a little bit of common sense.  

There's a old proverb that speaks this truth much better than I can. Proverbs 26:5-6 - "Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful." 

Of course my pride and selfish ambition doesn't agree with this statement.  Who likes open rebuke?  Who likes to be told they're wrong or being stupid?  Nobody I know, especially me.  Just because I don't like it, doesn't mean I don't need it from time to time.  I'd much rather know the truth of a matter than be allowed to walk around in deceit. 

Telling the truth to your friends and family is a sticky mess.  You run the risk of them getting angry with you, even to the point of breaking all communications.  I can't tell you how many times I've gotten angry at my husband, friends or Pastors when they've brought some things to my attention in an open rebuke.  I think for several years I lived in the land of "Tonya, Honey"... which was always the precursor of an oncoming rebuke.  But, I can't express to you how much I appreciate and love my husband, my friends and my Pastors for being honest with me.  Their actions showed me they loved  and cared for me.

Being a writer is no different.  When I put my first novel attempt out for critique, what I received was not what I had expected.  I was waiting on the accolades and tinker-tape parade in celebration of my genius.  Instead I got line edit after line edit of red-marked rebukes.   I chose not to allow the critiques to stop me from doing what I loved most in the world and took a step back from myself and examined my work with a new set of eyes.  I'm a much better writer today because a handful of wonderful people opted to tell me the truth instead of allowing me to embarrass myself in foolish deceit.  Now, no matter how much I like my other writer friends, I return the favor with honesty.  I'm not mean about it, and hopefully give more encouragement than I do rebuke, but I love them enough to tell them the truth.  Remember that it's a show of love the next time a friend offers you a rebuke.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Birds of a Feather

I love hanging out with other writers.  There's nothing more exciting than seeing a writer's face light up when they start talking about their latest adventure, or seeing the inspiration of hope take hold of their heart and their faces begin to glow with anticipation and excitement.  Nothing gets my heart pumping, my adrenaline flowing or my creativity buzzing like talking with a bunch of writers.  Well, that is besides having lunch with them.  We might be a bunch of nuts - but hopefully we're screwed on the right bolt.

 I thank all my lunch buddies for the creativity they shared today around the big table - and the great Italian meal at La Trattoria; Tom Cook, Joann Dunn, Dawn Goodwin, Frank Rogers and Bob Covel.  I want to especially thank new members Sue Lee, Lorien Forrest, Dawn Perry, Chuck Wanager and Maggie Lisiecki for their inspiration and encouragement at my end of the table.  You guys are the reason I love the Carrollton Creative Writer's Club so much.  I'm blessed just to be acquainted with you. 

I also appreciate everyone who took the time out of their busy schedules to attend the Carrollton Creative Writer's Club meet today to attack all the tough issues that were brought to the table.  I was so impressed with the professional and courteous attitudes.  I'm excited about this club and know there are some big things in store for it's future.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing & Parenting

I look at the various pictures pinned to the wall of my office and I can see how much I've changed over the years; not just physically, but in every way.  I don't think the same way I used to think, and I certainly don't act the same.  In many ways, I believe I've improved.  I've grown in maturity, increased in wisdom and flourished in knowledge. In other ways I could use some reminders of first loves, fluttered emotions and youthful excitement.  But, I'd never trade what I have now with what was.  I'm not one of those people who wish they could go back because their glory days are behind them.  On the contrary, I'm excited about what lay ahead of me - especially when it comes to my writing.

I love to write.  I love to create new worlds, give life to new characters, and then watch as they grow, mature, conform and flourish.  I find inspiration in their stories; a hope to overcome and succeed in my own story.   I'd be lying if I told you that everything was always easy when it comes to exercising my skills.  On the contrary, it's one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.  It's a lot like parenting. I pour everything I have into my proverbial children, but they have their own lives and sometimes go in a direction I never wanted or intended. The wisdom I have in dealing with my latest children has matured greatly from the first. 

Like many parents, I sometimes wish I could correct mistakes I made with my older children and manuscripts, and apply the new methods and understanding I've since gained.  However, as it is with parenting and writing, I can't go back.  What's done is done.  What's published is published.  All I can do is start from this point, apply my "now" wisdom to the current situation and state of things, and make different choices/changes/corrections.  Reconciliation is never off the table.  I only lack wisdom - and wisdom can be gained.

I'm proud  and sincerely love every story I've ever written, no matter how full of flaws they contain.  The same goes for my children.    In my 40 years of existence I've learned a few things, picked up a few skills, tested the waters more times than I can count, and I'm satisfied with the knowledge that  I did my best. My efforts may not have been THE best, but they were MY best. 

I've come a long way as a writer and as  mother.  I still have a lot to learn about both, but I'm determined to enjoy the journey along the way. 
 

Friday, December 09, 2011

Developing Individual Characters

Ever picked up a book and the beginning started off with a bang, had a great concept idea, the action was well crafted to find the story quickly fizzled because all the characters were one-dimensional and had the same personality?  I've ran into that one too many times of late, it seems. 

Most often this happens with new writers or books that have been self-published - lending support to the main reason for finding themselves of the self-published rack with dozens of rejection letters from traditional publishers.  I can only imagine the turmoil a publisher goes through reading these cardboard characters, seeing as they make me want to pull my hair out because of the blatant  waste and misuse of a great idea.

I'm currently reading such a book now, read another a few weeks ago, and another one a few weeks before that.  I'm not sure yet if it's part of some grand conspiracy or if perhaps they have been brought into my life to help me gain a grateful appreciation for the well developed characters I've met in the many stories before them. I suppose it's not ever day we get to understand the misunderstood Mr. Darcy, experience the maturity and growth of Harry Potter or learn to step into greatness like Eragon.  Don't even get me started on George R.R. Martin's all-star cast of The Game of Thrones - where I've never met so many characters in all my life in one book and each one of them had their own distinct personality. 

The stories I love most are always "character-driven".  When I relate to a character, feel what they're feeling and come to care about the outcome (whether for or against - because I LOVE-TO-HATE a great villain), then that is what I call a successful story.  I also believe the lack of such characteristics is the reason why these good-concept books with cardboard characters fall by the wayside.

So, for all my writer friends out there, let me give you this little piece of advice.  Go back to what you're working on and read the dialogue of all your characters.  Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. Do they talk the same; use the same words, expressions and exclamations?
  2. Do they use the same body language in the dialogue tags?
  3. Do they 'think' the same way as the other characters - or are they different in style, speech and resolve.
  4. Is everyone as smart as the other characters, have the same values, choose the same options and solve problems in the same manner?  Giving them different clothes, hair color and eye color doesn't make them different.
Now, look around you at all your family, friends, co-workers and associates and tell me that everyone is the same.  It's our differences that make us interesting.  It's what we can learn from one another that make us a better person.  How can we learn something new if all we see is the same? 

Let your characters develop themselves.  Don't force them into a mold of your making, because all you'll get is multiple versions of your conceited self.  A true writer doesn't use their gift of writing to reveal themselves through their characters - but has the power to give life, color and fullness to a character of their imagination. 

Please, please don't let the next book I pick up be filled with cardboard characters.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Thursday, December 08, 2011

War Wounds

Have you ever found yourself smack dab in the middle of war and suffered a massive injury? Have you ever been in a situation where retreat was out of the question, but going forward was excruciatingly painful?    That's the way it is sometimes - that is if you're alive and breathing.  Life is a battlefield, and we're all soldiers.  The war wounds we receive are not just flesh wounds, many times the most damaging injuries occur in the heart; deep into the soul. Trying to move with such deep seared injuries, exudes pain with every step.  But what option do you have but to press forward? 

  • Our first natural instinct when we obtain an injury is stand still and assess the situation and severity of our wounds.  Often we are in shock, and unbelief spreads through us like a disease causing us confusion.  We allow this deception to color our perception and misdiagnose our true state of being.
  • Our second natural instinct is to remain still in fear of increasing the damage, but that's the wrong move.  When we're in the middle of a battle field - we need to seek shelter, avoid further attack and obtain medicine - seek out our Strong Fortress and our Tower of Strength.  The only way we can do that is to keep moving forward; keep pressing on - even through all the pain. 
  • Our third natural instinct is to retreat into ourselves and give up.  When has ever putting our lives into the hands of our enemies ever benefit us?  If our enemy allows us to live, we become their living prisoners; slaves to the things which have wounded us and will continue to wound us periodically at their choosing. 
 All battles leave scars known as war wounds.  Who we are is not determined in how we obtain our scars, but in the decisions we make after the attack.  I look back at the white faded lines of my past wounds and realize how far I've moved forward from that moment.  While I was "IN" that pain and torment, I couldn't see what lay ahead of me - but I'm so glad I took the steps that brought me to where I am today.

The enemy is still dropping bombs all around me, shooting arrows at me and plotting against me, but I'm still pressing on.  I'm sure I'll obtain some more war wounds until my mission is complete, but I know that other days like this - a day when I can look back and see how far I've come - are on the horizon.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Out With the Old

New things, new people, new experiences are always exciting.  There's just something inside us that really lights up when it comes to new things.  Don't even get me started on new chapters, new shoes, new destinations, and new opportunities.  Of course, not all new things that come into our lives are good for us or prove beneficial.  In the end we find out that we've lost something valuable with the old tried and true we've tossed out for the new.  Makes me think of smiling people with wagging tongues that come in and  tell you all about the new and amazing things they can do in your life and how you can't live without them - to find out they were NOTHING like the excellent, dutiful and faithful people you already had in your life. All talk, but no substance.

Don't get me wrong, NEW is great.  I think we should all live our lives in one direction - forward.  It's the only way we're going - so we might as well get acclimated to the idea.  However, we don't need to be in such a hurry to toss away what we have to make room for everything new that comes down the pipe, as if to say we can't obtain the new with what we already have.  We need to remind ourselves of the story of the man who had so much that he tore down the barns he already  had to build bigger ones to make room for the new stuff he thought he had to have in his life.  God called that man a fool.  There's  a lot of wisdom in that. Success isn't about what we have, who we know, or who knows us, but WHO we are regardless of all that.

It's often said that the man with the most toys in the end - wins.  What does he win?  The prize for being the biggest fool?  Sometimes our greatest treasures aren't what we can get, or even what great opportunities become available to us - but in what we already have.  Most often what we already have is highly unappreciated - especially when it comes to the people in our lives.

Not everybody that says they're a friend is a true friend.  There may be some true emotions involved, but emotions change from day to day, experience to experience, and level to level.  With it, most friendships also change, at least those that are only viable in the emotional realm.  True friends are steady unmovable rocks.  They may react in emotion, but they work through those flows and ebbs, building character and trust; strengthening the bonds between each other. They know how to forgive and to apologize, to encourage and rebuke.

Many people come in and out of my life, because I'm in constant motion.  As I move, different opportunities present themselves bringing the different people with them.  Some the world would consider inconsequential, while others enjoy a celebrity status.  Years ago, when I barely valued myself, I would have endowed the celebrity with higher enthusiasm than the regular Joe, but not today.  I've matured and learned to love myself and see the value in who I am, and realize what character traits I value in other people - honesty and integrity above all.

I know both rich and poor, unknown and famous, inexperienced and successful, students and scholars, titled and untitled,  and among them all I have made many friends.  While I may spend some of my time getting to know the new acquaintances in my life, I don't throw away the wonderful, valuable and precious jewels in the true friends I already have.  I'm not impressed with titles, money, status, prestige or celebrity - in fact those are the ones I'm most wary and often pity. I've seen many  with my own eyes lose sight of what's really important in life chasing after the wind - but as Ecclesiastes reminds me - it's all meaningless.

I'm a writer striving for success and I'm a good business woman - but I don't measure my success on the number of book sales, dollars earned, celebrity endorsements, or acceptance by the populace and popular prestige.  I measure success in the many letters I receive from readers who've been encouraged by the words I've written or found inspiration by my example to write their own.  Writing makes me happy, so whether I reach 'worldly' success or not, I'm already successful.  I thank God for the friends I have in my life who pray for me, lift me up, encourage me when I'm down, remind me when I've been living in the clouds too long, rebuke me when I'm out place, bring me soup when I'm sick, tell me the truth especially when it hurts, and stuck around long enough to get to know me and my character. 

Now, where can I get a new pair of shoes!!!

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, December 05, 2011

My First Screenplay

I never really had any interest in writing screenplays, I've always tried to stay close in the land of fiction novels.  It seems like once I get in the groove of a great fictional story, something comes along and pulls me out - like when I'm asked to edit a non-fiction, ghost-write an inspirational teaching series, work on a memoir or autobiography, design and manage a newsletter,  or produce a news article for an online magazine.  I don't mind these things, but they don't make my heart palpitate hard against my chest.  They don't cause goosebumps to pop up all over my arms or send the hairs on the back of my neck into full attention. 

Needless to say, when writer/producer Elise Dimitria Bowman of CINIGI Lighthouse first approached me about writing a screenplay, I was very reluctant.  Part of me was asking, "Why can't SHE just write one if she's so interested in my work?"  With an already OVER-EXTENDED schedule, I just couldn't fathom the time, energy or desire to do it properly and so became almost hard-hearten to the opportunity.  Today, I'm glad she didn't give up on me.  I'm so thankful she insisted I participate in her Intro to Screenwriting Workshops because I'm finding that writing screenplays offers me the same excitement that my fiction novels provide, at least when it comes to adapting one of my own novels.

I still have an over-extended schedule and it has caused this screenplay to be slow progressing, but it is progressing none-the-less.  I can see a light at the end of the tunnel, enough so that I'm doing what I can to remove some of my other responsibilities to make a little more time for this new-found love in my life. I know I have a long way to go and lot more to learn, but now I'm not so squeamish to give it a shot.  Maybe because she's a great teacher more than I'm an eager learner.

I still don't know what Ms. Bowman's role will play in my life, but if it never goes any further than what it has already, she's been an important inspiration to me.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray 

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Magnitized

I'm a very blessed person and have a colorful pallet of people in my life I am privileged to call friends.  I couldn't say that 10 years ago, and couldn't even fathom the possibility 20 years ago, but something amazing has happened in and through me over these last few decades. 

Have you ever smashed a magnet and then thrown the broken shards into a pile of other broken shards of metal objects?  You get quite a reaction.  Some parts cling together while other parts are separated as the polarizing effects of the magnetization fight for dominance.  That was me growing up.  I was a broken piece of magnet thrown amongst shards of metal.   While there were always bits of metal that liked to cling to me, sort of like that children's game where you took the magnetized wand and moved the black pieces around a huge face to make funny hair and beards, the largest portion of me repelled everything around me.  In an effort to put myself together I became coated with superglue, and as a result created a protective shield to keep anything from sticking. 

Now I find that I'm made whole again, no superglue and no sharp edges.  I still have a few cracks in me, but they too are beginning to fade.  I also find that I'm equally able to draw and repel people in my life. 

I look around me and see that I'm not just surrounded by like-minded people, or people with the same interests, talents or vocations.  Many have differing political, religious and social views from me and each other, but somehow there's still an attraction.  I have friends that are actors, writers, screenwriters, Pastors, world-wide evangelists, producers, publishers, business leaders, store clerks, waiters, politicians, activists, retirees, teachers, bus drivers, police officers, community volunteers, aide workers, nurses, lawyers, reviewers, reporters, bloggers, singers, musicians (got a house full of those), factory workers, electricians, buyers, sellers, jewelry makers.  I have friends who have similar interests and beliefs, and those who don't. I freely speak, socialize and admire an array of diversity: such as liberals, conservatives, Christians, Jews, Agnostics, gays,  straights, blacks, whites, and everything in-between,  and much more.  I can put a name and face to each of those descriptions and still wouldn't cover everyone. 

There was a time in my life when I surrounded myself with only those who were like me, or who thought the same as me - but I found myself most often alone.  Friends aren't people who agree with you - they're people who share who they truly are with you.  They're not afraid to speak their mind for fear of your judgement or acceptance.  That's not a friend.  A friend loves you.  They don't have to agree with you, they don't even have to believe and have faith in the same things you do. It's not a contest of who is right and who is wrong.  We're human - sometimes we're both. You be who you are - 100% honest, truthful and open - and allow them to do the same - and you'll be surprised at how many friends you attract. Enjoy and learn from the diversity instead of allowing fear to keep you in your little boxes.

If you want friends in your life - show yourself friendly.  If you want honesty in your life - be honest. What's amazing is that I still believe the same things I believed 10 years ago, but I don't live in a little box anymore and I have a lot more friends.  Don't get me wrong - not everybody likes me.  I'm as equally repellent to dishonest, angry, depressed and judgmental people - they can't stand to be around me, and that's just fine.  I love my friends.  You know who you are.

Look around and see who surrounds you - if you look close enough you might just get a glimpse at who you really are, not who you think you are.  Now that's a scary thought!

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Don't Worry - Be Happy

Ever since I became a Christian almost 20-years ago I've been taught, told and preached the concept of "Don't Worry - Be Happy" as if it were a decision as easily made as choosing between a pair of identical socks.  But I find it a little more complicated to make that decision. I don't disagree with the concept, on the contrary I agree whole-heartily, I just have a difference of opinion when it comes to exercising the practice  in everyday decisions and practical matters.

 Sometimes I'll be going through my day, zipping through my responsibilities, fulfilling my obligations and not realize that I'm stressed from the burden of the panacea of things I'm worried about.  If you asked me right out if something was worrying me, I'd answer with an emphatic "No".  However, I'd be lying to myself - which is quite possible and often the culprit in 99% of the worry people carry.

What do I  worry about - whether consciously or subconsciously?  Let's see:
  • Education - With a daughter as a Junior in high school, this is the year for searching for grants, scholarships,  and deciding what type of college, how to pay for that extended education and try to draw up a plan and budget to begin the process of fulfilling those dreams (which can change at any moment and then you'd have to start all over).  I have a son about to enter the police academy, but first has to take a few courses at college to give him the best negotiating terms to obtain the desired position within the police force.  Of course - all of this is without a college fund - and we're expected not to worry about it - it's only our children's future we're talking about here. I find juggling the ideas of responsibility/faith/obligation gets a little tricky sometimes.  I'm a great debater and could possibly win on either term - but shouldn't they work together? God will make a way where there is no way.
  • Economy - With the downturn in the economy and unemployment at all time record highs, business opportunities are not as viable as they were five years ago.  The unemployment rate among teenagers is hovering at 95%, while college graduates are around 40%.  When the top 1% are closing businesses and not investing in new ventures and technology due to high taxes and an unstable market - that means middle class workers like myself and those in school like my daughter - don't have many options.  When business aren't hiring and laying off people, investors are tightening their belts and reluctant to part with their savings, and the political tensions and shallow promises are slung left and right blaming each other instead of coming up with solutions.  We're asked to Hope for Change, yet things stay just the same.  No matter how much I tell myself "don't worry", worry comes anyway. God is my provider.
  • Health - With the high cost of health insurance, increase in taxes  and the cost of living (groceries & gas) and decrease in pay - many of us have found ourselves between a rock and a hard place (too rich for Medicaid or free health care (unless illegal)/too poor for even your basic HMO) and have become uninsured.  Now unable to participate in 'preventive' health care like physicals and regular checkups, I sit by and hope and pray nothing serious happens health-wise  until I'm able to get back on my feet. Being over 40, I'm told how important it is to have a regular pap, physical and mammogram because the  best defense against most conditions that effect women my age is early detection.  Yet, I'm expected not to worry.  God is my healer.
These are just a few of the examples, there are many more.  I'm trying to follow my dream as a writer, knowing this is the gift I've been given in which I operate best.  Everyday I come against obstacles that want to crush that dream.  I have to fight against the 'practical' in order to fulfill the dream.  A war wages between Responsibility, Obligation and Desire.  Each have their own requirements for fulfillment, often sacrificing one another.

It's said worry can kill you.  I believe that.  With worry comes stress, anxiety, oppression, depression, ulcers, acid reflux, low immune system and easy susceptibility for disease.

So, what is the answer?  I wish there was an easy solution I could give you, but I can't.  Some things motivate some people, some things motivate others, but everything doesn't work on everybody the same.  We're unique individuals with our own strengths and weaknesses; we each have our own measure of faith.  But, without HOPE - there's nothing.  So, by FAITH, and the love I have for and through my Creator, I cling to that hope with all I possess - my God shall supply all my needs.  Doesn't mean I'll get everything I want.  My candidate may not win, my child may not get into the school of their choice, I may have do with just the basics for a time, my books may take a while before they hit the best sellers list - but I will prevail, I will overcome, I will succeed and I will rise again. I am happy right where I am - right in the middle of my little mess. THAT I don't worry about.  In the meantime, I'll keep trying to work on the other things.   

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hallmark Movies - Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship

Every year, starting the day after Thanksgiving (I refuse to watch a Christmas movie before that date), my husband and I begin watching Christmas movies, especially the feel-good Hallmark Originals.  Yeah, my husband loves them too and he's not ashamed to admit it (at least that's what he tells me).

I have a love/hate relationship with these movies.  I hate them on the one hand because they're so predictable.  Within the first five minutes while the opening scene tittles along, I've already figured out the major plot, know exactly what the turning point point will be, and the solution is clearly written in the snow flakes that are bound to fall during the Christmas Eve miracle scene.  However, I love them for those exact same reasons.  I know beyond all uncertainty EVERYTHING will work out in the end.  In a world full of chaos, disappointment, struggle and strife - my soul yearns to see miracles, to watch the sparkle of magic and to believe in the unbelievable.  That's a Hallmark movie wrapped in it's golden bow.

So, despite their predictability and lack of imagination, I recommend everyone to sit back, prop your feet up on a foot rest, wrap yourself in a warm blanket, fill a bowl full of popcorn, and sip on a large mug of hot chocolate as you sit back with your loved ones and watch a wholesome, magical, and inspiring Hallmark movie.  (No, I'm not a paid spokesperson for Hallmark.)

You never know what miracles you'll be inspired to believe when it's over.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray