Children’s Writers’ Blog Hop

Children’s writers enjoy playing children’s games. Currently there is a game of tag taking place in the form of a Children’s Writers’ Blog Hop. Carol Baldwin tagged Janice Green.

Be sure to hop over to Janice’s blog http://honeycombadventures.com/ for a visit. She tagged me. Thanks, Janice!

At the end of my post, I’ll tag two more writers. The great thing about this blog hop is YOU, dear reader. Skipping through cyber space is more fun with friends!

 What do you write and why?

I write for children’s magazines, such as Clubhouse and Appleseeds. An assortment of fictional and non-fiction articles are in the mix. Writing for the Christian market is a joy but I also like producing positive literature for the secular market.

Another big part of my writing involves interviewing authors who write for children, middle grades, and young adults. The Write2Ignite! Writers Conference publishes the interviews on their website. I love this job because I research experienced writers, editors, and publishers.  I’m privileged with the opportunity of asking things writers would like to know.

Encouraging others through my blog is my weekly gig. Ordinary things become extraordinary when God’s light shines on them. It delights me to bring a little joy into someone’s day by exposing those things.

The magazine articles, the interviews, and the blog keep me quite busy. However, one may find me scribbling away on a children’s book. One picture book is almost complete if I can just discover the perfect ending! 

What would you like to try as a writer but have not?

Oh!  There are many things I want to try! A beginning-reader chapter book on recently discovered ocean life would be fun to write.
Ideas for a fantasy book swirl in my mind on a regular basis.

Someday, a devotion book for children would be an amazing challenge.
Writing is hard work but I love the variety!

What is the hardest part about writing?

Staying focused.

God gave me a precious pastor-husband to share my life journey with and He blessed me with children to love, nurture, and homeschool. The people God brings in my path each day are top priority.

However, many lives can be touched through written words as well. Literature has the power to influence and change a person’s life—for better or for worse. I want my writing to make a positive impact in the world.

In order to do that, I must educate myself and practice the craft of writing. Carving out time to write means eliminating television and reducing things that can guzzle my time, like facebook.
My own jumping bean thoughts challenge me daily. I continually struggle to rein them in. Making lists seems to tame them for a short while.

Three-hour chunks of writing time are golden at my house so I must learn to shut out frivolous distractions to produce quality work.

Any words of wisdom for other authors?

Oh, mercy, I am not experienced enough to hand out any writing wisdom! I will share with you some things that have helped me:

·         Attend writing conferences. You can learn a vast amount in a short time span. Plus, the people you meet there are valuable gems.

·         Read heaps of books.  Read for enjoyment but also study books on the craft of writing. Your library should have plenty of these. The more I read about the craft, the more I realize I need to learn.

·         Prioritize. Live a multifaceted life, embracing the people and experiences God gives you. Savor the simple moments as much as the complex. This enriches your life and your writing.

·         Practice writing regularly—journaling, blogging, articles, and manuscripts.

·         Don’t get discouraged. Maintain a separate calendar for all your writing endeavors. Write down every book and blog you read on the craft of writing and the writing conferences you attend. Jot down every time you make a connection with another writer whether it is in person or via social media. Record the time you actually spend on writing. And, of course, note when and where you send your submissions.

If you love writing, do not let rejections sway you into quitting prematurely.

Look back over your writing calendar. You will see how much you actually achieved. You are learning! Every book, every conference—they all are accomplishments towards your goal in becoming a great writer.

C.S. Lewis said,
“It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

That seems like an excellent place to end and tag two other writers. They will post their interviews the week of November 4.
Hop over to author Nancy Sanders blog. She has written over 80 books for children, teachers, and writers. I’ve learned a great deal from her and I’m sure you’ll love her blog at http://nancyisanders.com/blogzone/.

Also, please visit another dear friend of mine, Samantha Bell at http://paintandpencils.com/. Samantha is an author and illustrator. She recently launched a new book, The Perfect Pet. Wait until you see her beautiful artwork!

Thank you, Nancy and Samantha! “Tag—you’re it!”






Encouraging Words from Author/Speaker Tim Shoemaker

A great deal of my writing goes into interview articles. One of my favorite assignments is covering book authors.
Not only do they share wisdom for writers but also they give great encouragement for Christian living. Today, I want to share an excerpt from an interview I did with author Tim Shoemaker.
Tim Shoemaker is the author of eleven books including Dangerous Devotions for Guys and Smashed Tomatoes, Bottle Rockets…and Other Devotionals You Can Do With Your Kids.  
In May 2013, his book, Code of Silence, was named in the Top Ten List of Crime Novels for Youth in Booklist Online. Back Before Dark is the sequel, and it came out in the spring of 2013.

Tim speaks at “churches, para-church organizations such as Focus on the Family, Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences, International Network of Children’s Ministry, Moody Pastors Conference, at men’s retreats, women’s groups, couples retreats, Youth Worker conventions, homeschool conventions, and conduct Family Devotion Workshops all across the country.” 

Tim thanks for carving some time out of your schedule for this interview. I know you’ve been writing and speaking full-time since 2004. How many years did you write before doing it full-time? Share with us how your writing journey began.
I’ve been writing since sometime in the early 90’s, at least. I wrote things for my three sons, mainly. Most of the writing was family devotional things that I did with the kids—object lesson and activity-oriented stuff to teach spiritual truth. I also loved telling them stories, and they’d ask me to write them down.  In time, I started doing that.
 And my youngest son had a hard time reading—so to encourage him along I wrote stories for him—at his reading and interest level. What I didn’t see at the time was that God was preparing me to write for a bigger audience.

I notice your writing now falls into two categories: one for parents and youth workers and the other is fiction for boys. First, I want to ask about your writing for parents and youth workers. What drew you to this genre?

As a dad, I struggled to effectively teach my boys about God and the principles he gave us to live by. I had a stack of books for family devotions, none of which really worked for long. Then I started doing little object lessons to teach spiritual truth. Blowing up eggs in the microwave. Smashing tomatoes. Shooting model rockets. All kinds of things. The boys listened. Learned. Enjoyed it. And with every object lesson or activity, they were getting a nugget of truth etched into their mind.
So eventually I started writing them down—thinking maybe my sons could use them with their own kids when they grew up. Then, at a writer’s conference, I was showing an acquisitions editor some fiction—and it was clearly with the wrong publishing house for that. “What else do you have?” he said. I almost answered “nothing” because the fiction was all I’d planned to present. That was my dream. Then the devotionals popped into my mind. I mentioned them—and he loved the examples I was giving him. The devotionals were written with all the passion of a dad’s love—and that started a series of books.  I had no idea God was using the writing I was doing for my kids to launch something bigger. 
Since I struggled to teach my kids, I totally understood other parents—especially dads—as they wrestled to convey spiritual truth in a way that their kids would listen. God developed a passion in me to help them, too. That’s where the speaking came in.
As for writing for youth workers, that was a natural path to take. I’d been working with youth for years. The same devotionals that worked for my boys at home worked for kids in a youth group. Really well. So when Group Publications approached me about doing a book, by God’s grace I was ready. Isn’t it amazing how God paves the way without us even being aware of it?

You have awesome titles in your devotion books for guys. Boys are naturally drawn to things like “Puking Pumpkins.” When you write your devotions for boys, what is your writing process? Do you think of a devotional first and then incorporate something similar to a “puking pumpkin” into it? Or, do you think of the puking pumpkin first, and then tie in a devotional?
It happens both ways. Sometimes there is a truth I want to convey, and I pray for a clear—and sometimes crazy way to present it. Other times I see something or hear about something and think—wow…there has to be a devotional in there somewhere.

A man spoke to me at a conference and asked if I’d ever tried electrocuting a pickle. I was instantly intrigued. “No, what does it do?” When I got home, I tried it, and God helped me see how perfectly that illustrated a basic but tough truth of our faith. I’ve used that demo with men and students many times since. I have a proposal for another book of devotionals out there—and “Electro-pickle” (or “Franken-pickle”) will definitely be in there.

Do you have a set routine for writing each day? What helps you stay on task?
I have a routine for the start of my day. I get up with my wife. Walk a couple miles. Pray. Memorize. Have devotions, journal, and have breakfast. Then I get to work. When I’m really in a time crunch, I write first. That would be the most important thing to keep me on task. Write before I start anything else.
When the weather permits, I write outside. Other times I’ll go to a fast food place. Usually I’m at home. Sometimes the change of environment helps me stay more alert. 
I’m not able to write every day. It takes me a lot of time to prep for speaking engagements, too.
The big time killer is email, Facebook, etc. If I start with that stuff, I’ll likely lose a lot of writing time.

Writers hear about building their platforms. Any thoughts you would like to share about that?
That’s a tough one, because my story isn’t all that typical. I had seven books published before I ever had a platform. But I was busy with work, my family, and in ministry at church. When we had to close our business in 2004 I felt I was to go “all in” on the writing.  I thought God was going to open the doors for the fiction writing. That didn’t happen. Not for years.
But God was working in me. Changing me. Making me the person I should be so I could do the job he had for me. I was talking to a pastor friend, sharing my burden for men and how they often avoided teaching their kids spiritually. “If I could just get men in a room,” I said, “I know I can help them over the hurdles holding them back.”
He looked at me. “Why don’t you come and do it at my church?” It hit me so hard. When I said that thing about getting men in a room, it was a figure of speech. I didn’t really mean I wanted to get men in a room and speak to them. I was scared to death. But I knew I was supposed to do it—so I did. And when I did, I found just how needed it was—and how easily men could be helped. It launched a speaking element of my life that I hadn’t pursued or manufactured. Sure, I had to do work, don’t get me wrong. But God brought the opportunity to me. He put the burden in my heart. My job was not to run away and hide from it—even when I was so afraid to do it.
So the lesson there is if God puts some opportunity in front of you—even if you think it is miles out of your comfort zone—think really hard before saying “no” to it. If I had declined, I would have missed so much.
And there is a timing factor to it. I spoke at a children’s ministry conference, presenting teachers with easy and concrete ways they can increase the effectiveness of their teaching, and a woman came up to me after I was finished. Now, I wasn’t the main speaker. I was just teaching a workshop.  She told me how much she’d learned and how excited she was—and how this is the type of thing she’d been looking for at the conference—but hadn’t found until our session. Then she asked something I never forgot. “Where have you been?” The question took me off guard. I knew what she was saying. She saw the gray at my temples—and the fact that I had something to say—but I wasn’t on the main speaker roster. I was a “no name” to her. “I’ve been raising my family.” That was all I could say.
Here are the lessons I took away from that. One, don’t force a platform before you’re ready. Believe me, I wish I’d have been ready when I was younger.  But God knew when I was ready—and he opened the door. Two, if you’ve got kids at home—they’re your priority. Be really careful about doing something that will hurt your influence at home or the time you should be having with your mate and kids.
Some people work so hard to build a platform—at the expense of their marriage and personal peace and their kids. They’re not just building a platform—they’re building a scaffold. And they’ll hang themselves on it if they aren’t careful. Your years with the kids are short. And life is too long to live with the regret of knowing you weren’t the parent you could have been because you were too busy building a platform.
When the time was right for my fiction to be published—it happened. It was so clearly God’s timing, I wish I could tell you about it. Sure, I wished it was sooner, but I see how smart God was with his perfect timing. I couldn’t make my fiction take off before the time was right—and when the time was right I couldn’t mess it up. We’ve got to trust God with all this. Work hard—of course.  Learn the craft—absolutely.  And work at being the consistent—real—Christian you should be. Yes, you’ll likely need a platform…but don’t build it at the expense of your family. Yes, you’ll likely need a platform, but be careful not to start building a platform before you’ve built the person. Make sense? 

I know your three sons are now grown, but how did you balance your writing and speaking engagements when your sons were younger and still at home?
I’m glad you’re zeroing in on this because I think it’s important. My two older boys were in college when the speaking really started. My priority was my kids—so God in his grace didn’t really bring the speaking opportunities until later.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Should I really be out telling people how to raise their kids when mine aren’t raised yet? I think some try to get into a speaking ministry a bit young—and it is something to be really careful about.
For the last few years, my wife usually travels with me when I speak, unless it’s a men’s retreat or a writer’s conference. This is a really important thing. We stay close. Have time together. Go out on a date after I’m done speaking.

With the writing, I have to be careful not to push it into the evening. My wife is good about helping me stay balanced. I usually write off in a quiet spot or behind a closed door, but my wife and kids have to be my first priority. If I don’t get that right—what do I really have to share with others? I heard a writer say once “My kids know when I’m on a deadline—and my door is shut—that I’m not to be bothered.” They laughed and remarked how that it wasn’t unusual for their door to be shut like that for several weeks. The audience laughed. And I grieved for her. She’d missed the mark. She was so busy with her message for the masses she didn’t think about the message she was sending to her kids. No book we’ll ever write is more important than our kids.
My youngest is twenty-three now, living at home and studying to be a paramedic. I still read him chapters after I’ve written them to see what he thinks. Try to keep the kids involved and part of the process. Incorporate their suggestions where you can.  I’ve had input from each of my sons that have prompted me to rewrite a chapter or section of a book. And the writing was better for it.

What advice would you offer to beginning writers? 
I think I’ve learned some of my most valuable tips at writing conferences. If you can attend a conference… do it. I love teaching fiction—and if you’re like me—actually hearing someone explain a technique helps you learn faster and better. 

 If you are a Christian—and you’re writing for Christians—watch your walk. Be the real deal. Don’t cut short your time with God so that you can write.

Don’t be discouraged. If this is part of God’s purpose for your life, then you can be sure he is going to help. And if he’s helping you—that’s a good thing. I’m always praying he infuses my writing with his power.
Keep writing. Have credible people read it and give you feedback.  Often a writer’s conference will offer a critique of part of your manuscript. This can be hard, but I learned some valuable lessons this way.

And if your passion is for fiction—don’t discount want you’re doing. Stories are powerful. They can convict, instruct, inspire, and encourage people more effectively than non-fiction many times. Keep learning so you can tell your story in the most compelling way.

Thank you, Tim! Your words will be an encouragement to all our readers.
To read the full two-part interview go to www.write2ignite.com




Sweet Sandpaper Dreams--Dealing with Chronic Pain

by Sally Matheny
Small, green squares of sandpaper were taped in various places around our house. Three days passed before my husband finally said, “Okay, what's up with all the sandpaper squares?”

Reluctantantly, I said the sandpaper squares were just little reminders for me. That did not suffice his curiosity. Nor did it satisfy my daughters, who after hearing my dream, insisted I share it with you all. 

Most of the time I don’t sleep well enough to dream at all. However, one night I dreamed I was riding an old, school activity bus. I was aware of being with familiar people but I couldn’t really name them. Laughter and chatter gushed through the bus. We were an excited bunch.

Eventually, the bus bumped onto an unpaved route through an open field. The rough terrain jostled us about and I remember mentioning several times about it causing pain to my neck.

After bounding down through the field awhile, we finally arrived at a vast, old barn. The bus windows were down and festive music swirled in the air. The bus pulled alongside the barn and parked.  

Through the barn's large open window, I could see a lively party taking place. Smiles, laughter, and music filled the room. Excitement bubbled forth from the bus passengers as they prepared to exit.

The bus driver asked if I would please stay seated until everyone disembarked. I wondered why he would ask such a thing but I obliged, thinking perhaps he had a question or something.

After everyone left, the bus driver handed me a piece of brown sandpaper. Fingering its roughness, I said, “I don’t understand. What’s this for?”
He kindly explained that I would have to stay on the bus and watch from the window.


“Because every time you say something about your pain, it is slightly abrasive, like this sandpaper.”

I did not ask for further explanation. I knew exactly what he meant. In reality, I diligently try not to whine about my chronic neck pain. but try to report it in a matter-of-fact way. However, no matter how one says it, if one says it too often, it becomes irritatingly abrasive.
Point taken.

Holding the sandpaper in my lap, I remember feeling sad and left out. There was no anger, just remorse as I watched the people having fun inside.

Then I woke up.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I pondered it all for a moment. Immediately, I began a search for sandpaper. All I could find was the green kind. That was okay; perhaps it would hark a little louder. I wanted reminders everywhere.

The pain is more noticeable at night, so one square went beside my bed and another near the bathroom sink. Now, As I brush my teeth, I rub my finger across its scratchy surface.
My family knows nights are worse. I don’t have to tell them that. They see me retrieve ice packs, Tylenol, and such. They are kind and understanding. Continual updates are unnecessary.

The refrigerator was next. After a long day, the neck may be sore but a meal needs to be prepared. A stroke or two over the green sandpaper and soon the food is ready and we’re giving God thanks.

Another sandpaper square is inside my purse. Often, when I reach for my cell phone or keys, my knuckle scrapes across it. Not verbally, but mentally, I say “ouch.” Exactly, I think with a smile.
After telling my sweet husband about my dream, he tried to assure me that I was being too hard on myself. He said I did not complain too much—that it was all my own subconscious worries about complaining.
Nonetheless, the sandpaper dream made an impact and my life has changed.
Don’t get me wrong. Our days do not float smoothly by on cotton candy clouds. Some days are great. Others are chaotic. Life is real at our house. Problems and pain come and go.
However, I have witnessed the effects of ceasing the repetitive pain updates.

I feel better!
Life is a little sweeter.

And next time...I'm getting off the bus!





Can You Shinny Up a Tree? It's Climb a Tree Month!

by Sally Matheny
As my grandparents used to say, "Can you shinny up a tree?"
Not shimmy, but shinny, as in SHIN-KNEE (two of the things you use when climbing). I'm sure it's in southern dictionaries.

Has your child shinnied up a tree lately? Who has never climbed a tree? Research states one out of every three children.

When we were children, my sister and I used to play in the woods for hours. We not only climbed trees but made houses out of sticks, pies out of mud, and crowns out of leaves. Nature provides a wonderful playground.
In the autumn of 2012, I launched a campaign encouraging children to get outside and climb trees. Several children and their parents participated and this year we're doing it again!

October is recognized nationally as Pizza Month, Fire Safety Month, and Diabetes Awareness Month. I propose we also establish it as "Climb a Tree" Month!
It may be hard to admit, but we all know the culprits keeping our kids out of the trees.
    1) Electronic Games

2) T.V.

3) “Busy” Schedules

4) Fearful Parents

5) Fearful Children

Electronics and television have their educational value and the fun-factor. However, quite often we let them dictate our use of time. We have to beat the high score, master the next level, and experience the latest gizmo. 
At 4:00, 7:00 and 9:00 are the family’s favorite TV shows. Missing an episode would be disastrous!
Parents’ schedules are nothing compared to their children’s--dance, sports, scouts, clubs, and friends. Of course, we must fit in school, church activities and community service projects as well. We often think of these things as making our child “well-rounded.” 

If you’re toying with the idea of taking your child outside perhaps you still harbor a few fears:

· Fear of the time it will take away from your schedule

· Fear of accidents, allergies, poison ivy, insects (especially stinging ones), and wild animals. Perhaps we've watched too much “Hogs 
    Gone Wild” or “Finding Bigfoot.”

· Fear the kids might actually like being outside therefore requiring you to be outside more

Of course, parents are not alone with their apprehensions. The children will have their own fears:

· Fear of the time away from the couch, the TV, and the electronics.

· Fear of accidents, allergies, poison ivy, insects and wild animals (Kids pick up on all the parents’ fears, remember?)

· Fear their parents might actually like being outside therefore requiring them to be outside more.

Okay, so face your fears. Gather your children and together research safe tree climbing, poisonous plants, animal habitats and safety in your backyard “wilderness.”
See! There are many benefits (physical & educational) to climbing a tree!
Peel your kid off the sofa and put your sneakers on. Unplug your electronics and pack a first aid kit. Yes, at first there may be complaining but don't give up.
Make it a fun challenge for everyone. They love mastering the various levels of their electronic games, right?

Introduce them to the bravery required for tree-climbing. It’ll take critical thinking, balance, strength and resilience. Perhaps there will be some risk involved. Are they ready to accept the challenge?
Do they have what it takes to beat the odds? Do they want to be the 1 out of 3 who has never climbed a tree?

Who will participate in our "Climb a Tree" campaign? This is a worthy investment. The best thing is it is fun for free. All it takes is a little time, your child, and a tree!

TREE-CLIMBING CONTEST! How about you? Will you take a child outside to climb a tree this month?Tell me your tree climbing stories.

Send me a picture and/or a story of your child in a tree and I’ll put his/her name in a drawing to win a cool outdoor toy (toy will be chosen based on the age of the child).

Each child and parent pictured IN a tree (not beside it on the ground) will have their name placed in the drawing.

You can post your stories in the comments section below or email, snail-mail, or facebook them to me.

All entries due by November 1, 2013.
Winners will be announced November 3, 2013 right here on this blog.

Now, turn off the computer and go climb a tree!