An Old Guy Can Write YA?

In the hills of North Carolina stood a little country church in bad need of a paint job. The deacons got together and decided to hire a local painter. The painter arrived with a pickup filled with paint, rollers, brushes, and ladders and got to work.

The job went great and it looked like he would be able to finish in one day. When he got to the steeple, he realized that he had only one gallon left. He debated whether to run into town to buy more paint, but he would never finish that day if he did.

He had a solution. He had two gallons of thinner. Soon he had that one gallon stretched into three. Like Jesus and the loaves, he thought.

He got out his tallest ladder and proceeded to coat the steeple with the thinned paint. Nobody will ever tell the difference way up here. He was nearly finished when the sky turned dark. Thunder rolled and the painter sped up.

Just as he was making the last stroke, lightning hit the steeple and a loud voice thundered from heaven, “Repaint! And thin no more!”

Some of you started to read that joke and said, “Not this one again.” Some of you got to the end and laughed. Most young readers, if they got to the end, went, “Huh?” That’s the challenge I face as an older writer trying to be relevant to today’s young readers.

            Is it even possible?

            Yes!

So how does this 50 something writer stay relevant to today’s young people? Here’s what works for me.

            First – Hang out with young people!

I have an unfair advantage in that department right now. I currently have three teenage kids at home (we started late). There have been teens in our home for eight years now!

That’s not enough. Teen kids often treat their parents like they’re from another planet (which we are, in a manner of speaking). For most of my adult life, I have remained involved in either children’s or youth ministry. I’ve gotten to know many young people and they have shared many of the secrets of their generation.

You can also volunteer at school libraries, Big Brother/Big Sister programs, youth centers, etc. Get involved and listen with an open mind to the things they are saying and doing!

            Second – Immerse yourself in the culture!

I’ve often volunteered to put together the music playlist for the hangout times at youth groups and camps. It was a proud moment when a youth told me that my playlist was “really good.” I researched what they were listening to. I listened to the songs (many today have lyrics inappropriate to youth groups), and I put together lists that would be both fun and uplifting to youth. (If you have i-Music, you can find one here.

The styles are much different from what I grew up with, but I’m learning to appreciate the drive behind them and enjoying many of them.

I also try to keep up on other entertainment that’s popular today. TikTok, Instagram, shows on Netflix and Disney+ are places that I visit as time allows, often with my kids. Mind you, I can’t spend the kind of time that many youth spend on entertainment, but I do what I can to stay current.

            Third – Get their help!

Run your ideas by the youth you know. After you’ve written, have them proofread.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “People don’t say that anymore.” And “That doesn’t make any sense.” And the worst, “Boring!”

Take their advice! Rewrite, edit, and work with your helpers to create writing that they will relate to.

There are many other tips I could list here that apply to writing for young readers. White space, chapter length, hooks, and others can take your story from good to gripping. I plan on learning more about them in two weeks at the Blue Ridge Christian Writers Conference. There’s still space there and there’s a virtual option. Check it out HERE!

Bottom line: if you have something that you think the next generation needs to hear, write it. Bring it to them in a way they will understand, enjoy, and believe!

Writing About Disabilities: A Conversation with Felicia

My oldest daughter Felicia is disabled. I admit that is a term that I am not comfortable with. I like to think in terms like “challenged” or “differently abled”. The plain truth is, though you can’t tell by looking, she has medical conditions that severely limit her abilities.

She is also an author currently writing a novel with a main character that shares her disabilities.

She and I had a lengthy conversation about writing about disabilities as well as a little trivia contest about our mutual favorite author, Ted Dekker.

I somehow managed to brutally edit that conversation down to 23 minutes of the most important topics. This was my first attempt at using Zoom recording for a video so please excuse the less than stellar quality.

I should mention that Felicia and I have rather different world views. Differences aside, we can still learn from each other and have mutual respect and love for each other. I would even go further to say that we need to hear from people who differ from us in order to learn and grow.

I hope you learn something from this conversation. Feel free to take part in the conversation in the comments on the video. You can find it here.

The Happy Little Weed

Weeds! Gotta hate ‘em. I go out every Saturday morning and do battle against them. By the next Saturday, there they are again, grinning from leaf to leaf! What can I do?

Okay, if you think this is going to be another blog about how weeds are like sin and we need to pluck them out, think again. I don’t disagree with that notion, but this is a story about a happy little weed that appeared in our yard a few years ago.

When it first appeared, I didn’t notice. It was just a little clump of grass in the dirt next to the deck.

The next summer, it came back. This time the clump of grass had stalks in the center that reached up to the deck. Quite handsome. I cut it back after the summer but left it there to see what would happen.

The next year, it reached high enough to provide a backdrop for my profile picture.

I tried to trim it back this last year with the hard-plastic blade attachment on my weed whacker. It destroyed the blade before I was half-way through. I actually resorted to a Sawzall to finish the job.

This year may be its last. It’s already taller than me when I’m standing on the deck, and it’s still growing. Its base is so wide that we have the walk to the side of our path to get around it.

Once it dies off for the winter, I’ll trim it back again (chain saw?) and try to dig it up to transplant it where there’s more room. Maybe I’ll try to split it up so it can bring its joy to multiple parts of the yard.

So, what does my happy little, um, big weed have to do with anything? I think it’s a lot like life, especially this year.

Sometimes those little weeds in life pop up in places we don’t expect. That new friend or neighbor. That hobby you started out of boredom. That opportunity to change careers (because your current job disappeared). That nagging sense that there’s more to this life.

There’s a lot of things that seem like weeds that are choking your life when they start. Maybe they need to be pulled up at the roots. Maybe they don’t.

My point today is to stop and think before you yank that weed out.  Maybe it isn’t a weed but a healthy volunteer plant like our ornamental grass.

Maybe that person could become a life-long friend.

Maybe that opportunity could become a life changer.

Maybe that hobby could become a living.

Maybe that prayer could change your life.

If you want a little more joy, look for that happy little weed.

I Must Confess

I must confess.

I just killed someone.

They had to go.

I admit that the flames may have been a bit much, but I needed the drama.
After all, they say, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.”

For the very first time, I killed a character in one of my books.

Don’t worry, the gang in Kerryville are fine.

I went into my writing session tonight determined to trim the character list in Reymons. It had gotten too complicated to write dialog that the reader could easily follow. That’s the very reason I stopped writing that story and turned to editing Wil Clarey: School of Hard Knocks.

At first, I was just going to delete a character. I then realized that Reymons need a bit more drama with its fast-paced action. The Young Adult (YA) audience won’t put up with a book that doesn’t engage the emotions.

The challenges that come with writing for different audiences are daunting. I had one of my daughters read a section of Wil Clarey that I had just written. Her confusion showed me that I had to paint the scene a little more clearly for the younger reader.

For YA, I know that gripping scenes that pull the reader into the middle of the drama and action are what turn pages. My hope is that Reymons becomes a book that the reader cannot set down.

If any of you wish to be a test reader for sections of Reymons or any of the Wil Clarey books, email me. Anyone who brings constructive criticism to either of those books will receive a free copy of the book and acknowledgement in the books if and when it is published.

Thanks for reading this. Be sure to check out the links including social media. I have added a link for my new (as of the beginning of the year) YouTube channel, The Wandering Pen.

Farewell and write well.

Update from my writing corner

My new study and work area.

You would think that I would get a lot of stuff done during a stay at home order. True, I am still working, but my commute usually consists of walking down the stairs. I am still doing field service calls, but they are few as most people aren’t using their copiers right now.

So why has it taken me so long to post another blog? That’s a good question. The short answer is found in my priorities.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my family, playing games, watching movies, enjoying time together. We even videoed one of our activities and posted it on my YouTube channel (The Wandering Pen).

I also spent time calling families of the kids that I normally teach in children’s church on Sundays. As an introvert who hates to talk on the phone, I can’t tell you how tough that was. I can also tell you that it was worth it!

I set up a new study/writing area. I still have the comfy chair under my train table but It’s a little too comfy. Puts me to sleep; not a good thing when I’m supposed to be working.

I could go on, but I am starting to bore myself. Let’s just say that my interests are a little too diverse. What I have mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg. At least I can say that “couch potato” is not a very accurate description for me.

Despite my scattered interests, at my core I am a writer.

Even that area of my life is diverse. In the last few months, I have written several chapters of Synced or Countdown or whatever the title ends up as. Then I switched gears and had a blast writing on Reymons. Now I’m working on the first edit of Wil Clarey: School of Hard Knocks. Read on if you would like a peek into each.

Countdown is a contemporary action suspense novel about a hacker and a pastor desperately trying to stop a massive terrorist attack. It’s quite a challenge switching to writing for adults. While I love the story line, right now, it is mainly a practice piece to learn how to write more gripping fiction. I will get back to it, but my scattered brain took me back to something completely different.

Reymons was the first real fiction story I wrote back when I was 16. In December, I started reworking it to be a viable YA novel. It is a post-apocalyptic story about a young man’s discovery of the truth of the world and his efforts against all odds to discover more and bring it back to the “civilized” world. A couple weeks ago, I realized that I had to rework the character list to simplify it. Too many characters!

While I ponder my character list, I am back to working on Wil Clarey: School of Hard Knocks. After completing the first draft, I set it aside for several months so I can get a fresh look at it for the first edit. Two weeks ago, I started that edit with a new first chapter. You can get a peek at it on my Wil Clarey blog.

            It is the second book in the middle grade fiction story of a teenage boy with high functioning Autism making the transition from city life to country living. As Wil starts to get used to his new small-town school, he finds himself struggling with forgiveness in a serious way.

Don’t worry, the seriousness is mixed with a continuing mix of humorous and adventurous scenes. Honestly, I am looking forward to seeing what other situations Wil gets himself into as the story reforms itself.

All this is to say that the wheels are still spinning in this scattered brain. Keep your eyes open here, at The Wandering Pen, and WilClarey.com to see what’s happening.

The Wandering Pen and other adventures!

Why is there a paper airplane stuck in a camera on a tripod?

I’m glad you asked. But first an update –

In November, I got a good head start on writing Reymons. That’s my first novel idea from when I was 16 and in Mrs. Fender’s English class in the 11th grade. That was a long time ago. My writing was pretty terrible back then (enough to get me an A in that class). I restarted from scratch and through free-writing, I now have the solid beginning of what should be a fun and adventure filled YA novel. More on that in a later post.

Once Thanksgiving hit, I put the writing on hold. With all the activities of the holidays, I wanted to be sure to have time for my family. It has been a good season and I don’t regret the break from writing. Other than taking down the lights and a postponed family get together in Nebraska, I am done with the holidays. I’m now itching to get back to writing and platform building.

After I have this posted, I intend to create an outline for Reymons. While I enjoy free-writing and I will probably veer from the outline at some point, I want to be sure that I keep the story on track and moving along with action and suspense.

Are you still wondering about the camera and paper airplane?

Those were used in making the first episode of The Wandering Pen. That is a new YouTube channel that Hannah, my daughter, is helping me make. I am a rank amateur when it comes to that kind of stuff but it’s fun and it will improve as we get more experienced at it.

The first episode explains why we are doing the channel in a funny way. Okay, a big part of why it is funny is because I am a terrible actor. The paper airplane was featured in the first chapter of Wil Clarey: a Kerryville Summer. We’ll see where it goes. I’d love your input for ideas for future episode ideas.

I have also revamped another ongoing practice of mine. For the past five years, I have posted a daily Bible reading on Facebook. I have started posting short original devotionals or comments with each day’s reading. If you like reading the Bible or are just curious, feel free to join the group by searching “North Metro Life Journal” on Facebook.

While I try to avoid New Years resolutions, I do promise that this will be a season full of new blogs, videos, writing samples, and maybe a contest or two. Stay tuned…

Frozen Fingers

Most of you writers out there know that it’s hard to find time to write. It’s been a while since I finished the latest revision of Wil Clarey Book 1. At first I took a little break from writing. Then I got caught up in the busyness of work, fixing up the house and happenings at church. This last week I’ve been on vacation. Most of that spent with the family in Estes Park. Yesterday and today (the last day of vacation) my youngest daughter and I are camping at Lake Dillon. That brings me to the frozen fingers.

Have you ever planned ahead for something, gathered everything on your list, and then forgot the simplest thing? Yep, me too. Yesterday, in the heat of the early afternoon, everything packed in the truck, I managed to drive off without grabbing my coat.

It is currently in the 40’s here. I’m huddled under a sleeping bag at a picnic table while my daughter sleeps in the tent. The sun has just peeked over the ridge (Hallelujah – warmth!) and I am taking advantage of the early morning quiet to write.

This would be the point at which I’d say something about being sure that you don’t miss the obvious things in life. That’s certainly a lesson I could learn but that’s not where my mind is going today.

If I had remembered my coat, this wouldn’t have been the experience that it has been. If I’d remembered, we might not have spent time with the people in the next campsite around their roaring fire. Forgetting my coat gave us the experience of laying in our sleeping bags with our heads sticking out the entrance of the tent looking at the stars. It also put a memorable edge on the experience of climbing the trail at Mount Evans (from the parking lot to the peak at 14,265’).

Now, as the sun and my tea start to warm me, I look forward to one last day of relaxing. I’ll press in and work on my book proposal and building my platform soon.

Until then, if you forget the obvious, do as I’m doing now, relax and… chill.

Spring Time Pirate!

Yep, time has gotten away from me. At this moment, I have a few minutes to share what’s going on in this writer’s life.

If you were online and super attentive, you could have noticed a post a couple of weeks ago. When I discovered, ten minutes after publishing, that it did not post correctly, I took it down and did not have time to repost it. I’ll include most of that content in this post.

The super brief recap of the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference is:

  • It was amazing.
  • I learned a ton – especially about self editing.
  • I got home and got sick. I lost momentum to influenza.
  • Two publishers have expressed interest in Wil Clarey: A Kerryville Summer.
  • I have decided that I need to edit that manuscript further with the tools I acquired at the conference.

Then there is that “time pirate” called Spring. It has brought many good but time consuming projects. Since the conference, I have:

  • remodeled our powder room,
  • built a super heavy-duty bed to replace my son’s “heavy-duty” metal bed (that was broken in less than six months with his Autism related constant motion), and
  • started a Xeriscaping project in the backyard.
To get a bed that would stand up to a 14-year-old’s constant motion, I had to build one from scratch!
The beginning of our Xeriscaping experiment.

Blogging time was stolen by that swashbuckling warmer weather. Tonight’s sword fight with time won me back 45 minutes after editing to quickly get this out there.

The bottom line is – I am excited with how much better the novel is sounding! (better than this hasty blog). I am also a little stressed with how long it is taking. Mind you – not stressed enough to take any more time away from my family or to pay a landscaper. I appreciate your prayers and advice. And if anyone wants to come over and help in the yard… 😉

Editing the old fashioned way. It’s sounding a lot better!

There was one more part of the lost blog that I promise I will post soon. It will be a contest of sorts. Stay tuned and keep your editing skill sharp. Until then, enjoy the warm weather and family time!

Mount Hermon – Saying “Yes” to God

How do you return to your roots and move forward at the same time?

For me, the answer to that question comes in the form of the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. I write this at the end of the first day of the conference back at the desk in my room.

Coming here brings back a flood of memories as I worked here for a few years just over 30 years ago. I actually ran sound and made recordings for this conference in 1986, 87, and 88. While my professional and personal life has taken a completely different direction since then, I still cherish those memories.

Now that my writing has taken a more professional turn, returning here to attend one of the best (if not the best) Christian Writer’s conferences makes sense. Over the next few days I will make connections, be inspired, and further hone the craft of writing and editing.

Tonight we heard from prolific writer and filmmaker Bill Myers. He challenged us take a new look at our faith and to learn the exciting benefits of always saying “yes” to God, no matter how crazy His requests may seem. The stories of his experiences of saying “yes” when it made no sense both amused and inspired. You can find more info about him at https://www.billmyers.com/

The conference continues until Tuesday morning. I will endeavor to update you especially where it affects my writing.

Overwhelmed?

“Just one more thing and I’ll explode!”  Have you ever told yourself that?  Are you dealing with those feelings right now?

           While I am not sure I am quite to that point right now, I certainly feel like one of those plate spinners, running around a stage trying to keep every plate spinning for fear one will crash.  Even as I write this, I am prepping a computer for one of my daughters.  That’s after doing some clean up in the garage and a busy day at work.  Somehow, I hope to fit in a workout before I go back upstairs (from my basement writing cave).  I also need to sell an old car, remodel our powder room, hang new blinds and a few other things I am sure I have forgotten.

            Sounds crazy, I know.  The saving grace in all this is that I know that my stage is padded so if a plate falls, it won’t break.  What I mean by that is that I have taken the time this week to be with my wife and kids.  I haven’t come down here every night to write (that should be obvious by the lack of any recent blogs).  I also managed to get my pre-conference submissions completed and mailed (for the upcoming Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference).  I also know that if I don’t get stuff done, life will go on – maybe richer for the experience.

            That thought brings me back to an experience 12 years ago.  I was moving to Colorado from the Philadelphia area.  My ex-wife had decided to move away with my 7-year-old daughter.  My choices were an ugly, expensive court battle or move.  For my daughter’s sake I chose to move.

            My furniture was mostly junk so I gave most of it away and stuffed everything I could into and onto an old minivan.  I started out on a cold and wet late October evening knowing I needed to be to work in Denver by November 1st.  Five hours and 230 miles later, my world came flying apart along with the connecting rods in that poor minivan’s engine.

            Imagine, if you will, it was 10pm on a Friday night, 30 something degrees and raining, and ten miles from the nearest exit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Smoke was billowing out from the engine of the vehicle containing all my worldly possessions.  To say I was stressed is like saying the surface of the sun is hot.  By the time I got the van towed and settled into a quiet motel room, I had a simple prayer that I repeated like a broken record.  “Lord, I’ve got nothing left.  It’s all up to you now.”  I fell asleep with that prayer and I woke up with that prayer. 

            I’d like to say that God swooped in with a brand-new van and got me safely to Denver. Instead, God provided a mechanic and a used engine and 4 days of forced rest while I waited for it to be completed.  The van got me to Colorado a day late and more rested than if I had made it through on time.  I was blessed with a patient employer and landlady (I had to dip into my rent money for the van).  Then I was blessed with new friends who provided furniture (that money was gone too) and Christmas décor. 

            It was crazy for me to leave a good job to stay near my daughter.  It was crazy to try to move across the country in an old and seriously overloaded minivan.  And it was crazy good how God blessed me in the long run for making those decisions.  Twelve years later, my daughter has grown to be an awesome young adult.  I am remarried to an amazingly godly and beautiful wife who brought three kids that I have the privilege of helping raise. 

            My Christian writer friends are probably expecting me to quote Romans 8:28 and write about God working those things for my good.  That’s true, but right now life is kind of crazy.  Maybe I’m crazy – Crazy for writing.  Crazy for helping raise 4 awesome kids.  Crazy for teaching kids and youth at church with everything else going on.  That just points me to my favorite verse of the Bible – 2 Corinthians 5:13a (NLT) – “If it seems we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God.”  All I can say is, to God be the glory. 

           Let the plates fall.  Catch the important ones.  Spin the less important ones again as time allows.  And when it gets impossible, lean on the grace of God and He will get you through, bringing hidden blessings along the way.

Now to grab the plate of a workout and give it a quick spin…