Friday, July 31, 2009

The Daniel Journal

I embraced it; I loathed it. It was a cloth bound book with blue and red swirled flowers on the cover. Inside were the raw words from my heart and soul.

Once it was filled with crisp, lined pages. That was the day it was gifted to me by my three-year-old son Daniel's oncology nurse. That day it was just a pretty journal. Daniel smiled as I thanked this nurse for her thoughtful present.

Months later, this object contained sentences no one wants to ever write.

Never far from me, I lived for moments when I could take respite from my days to visit with this book. No longer clean and white, it was stained with tears, full of questions, anger, agony, and sorrow.

I'd kept a plaid-covered journal when Daniel was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. That was a journal where hope lined the pages because I was certain that with faith and prayers, chemo, surgeries, and radiation, my son would be cured of his aggressive tumor.

After Daniel's funeral, I knew that the blue and red journal would never hold hope. Life, as I knew it and wanted, had ended. With Daniel gone, I only wanted the floor to open up and swallow me, taking me away from pain and misery.

The floor never opened. But the journal was there every day, allowing me to deposit whatever I needed onto the numerous pages. I wrote under a weeping willow tree at a local park, at a secluded booth in my favorite coffee shop, at stop lights. I wrote when I was frustrated with those who didn't care about my brokenness, and when a stranger sent a card to comfort me.

When the pages ran out, I purchased another journal, and then another. I never expected one journal to be able to contain the entire volumes of my heartache.

My journals of the early years after Daniel's passing sit in a bag in my closet now. I know that at anytime I could open one, and read. Yet, I don't. Although much stronger now, thanks to my journal-writing, I still don't want to face that woman who didn't want to live.

The blue and red journal is more than a journal. This gift I received became a gift to myself and my sanity whenever I opened it to release parts of my torn heart.

While I often hated having a reason to have to write in it, I will always be grateful that it was there for me---never judgmental, never belittling, never preachy. Writing made me a believer that putting pen to paper is one of the best resources we have as humans for healing.

Because as I wrote, this journal provided me with something I didn't think it ever could or would. Hope.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Posting at Red Room Months Ago

September 9, 2008, 3:04 pm

My novel is here, it's here, it's really here! Sure, I feel like a kid, like the kid I once was in bagging red tights, eager to win the spelling bee in Ms. Terwilliger's first grade class. However, when I look in the mirror and hold Rain Song, uh, well.... I guess I did turn 47 on my last birthday.

At the back of Rain Song sits my acknowledgments page. I like how I've thanked a few folks, including the woman at the spa who gave me a pedicure years ago. She told me not to give up. I think we must have been discussing our dreams and goals. She wanted to be a manicurist on a cruise line; I yearned to hold my published novel in my hands. After my feet were all clean and my toenails shimmered with a glossy pink, the manicurist looked at me, right into my eyes. She told me that she felt my dream would come true. Somehow, she sensed it. I managed a smile. Now, three years later, I can't help but wonder if she ever made it to the great blue seas, providing nail care for a host of passengers that enjoy stuffing large bills into her tip jar.

I didn't acknowledge Ms. Terwilliger. She is most likely dead, she was over 100 years old when she taught me. But I should have. This teacher is the one who, like my current editor and agent, believed in me. She gave me a start in fiction. Sure, I was embarrassed, but who wouldn't be when reading a story about a birthday party in front of the third and fourth grade classes of our little international school in Kyoto, Japan? Yet, there was pride for me, too. My teacher, with her round face, and long yellow number two pencil behind her ear, was proud of me. She ushered our entire first grade class into the older kids' room, and announced that Alice had written a story, "so everyone sit up and listen."

They did.

Ms. Terwilliger, thank you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Tools You Need to Keep You Going: Resources for Aspiring Novelists

When I was young, my best friend Josephine cried at my teen-romance stories. "Oh, Alice," she would say dabbing at her eyes, "You write so well. That was great."

From age eleven on, I thought I was the next Great American Novelist. Josephine said I wrote well. Although she did give me the confidence I needed to continue with my passion for fiction writing, she also made me think that I was talented--no matter what.

Probably all of us have had someone like Josephine in our lives. Somewhere along the journey a grandmother, a father, or a teacher believed in our potential.

However, too many times writers think that passion and the love of stringing words together is enough. For me, if Josephine cried, then I'd written effectively.

There comes a time in our lives that we need to push a little harder.

There are six tools aspiring novelists need in order to build their craft with perfection and get published.

1) Novelists Need Practice

What do a violin player, a ball player and a ballerina all have in common? If they want to improve and compete in their areas of expertise, they have to practice! Writers need to practice at their craft in order to move from writing the tear-jerkers of our youth to adult novels with developed characters, scenes that move the story along, and dialogue that sounds like real people talking.

Practice comes by sitting down and writing, rewriting, editing, and reading your piece aloud. A critique group comes in handy. With a group, you have people who share your passion for writing and want to help you polish your work to a beautiful shine. A writer needs a thick-skin to handle the feedback from other authors. Grow one; listen to what others in your field have to say about your fiction.

2) Novelists Need to Read

Read good novels, ones that keep you thinking about the characters long after you turn the last page. Ask yourself: Why did the story mean so much to me? Chances are, it was the way the story was told or the voice in which it was written. When you read a novel you don't like, analyze it. Why didn't it work for you? Was the plot too sappy? The heroine too perfect? What made it boring? How could the author have improved it?

When you find an author you like, read everything he or she has written. I did this with Elizabeth Berg. Reading all of her books helped me to get a better grip on finding my own voice for my novel Rain Song.

Berg's honesty in her works inspired me to sit at my computer and write. Good writing does that to us. Upon returning from a Monet exhibition, my young artist daughter spent hours drawing. Inspiration often produces inspiration.

3) Novelists Need Discipline

Yes, you have to write if you are going to aspire to get your work published. I don't say this as a joke. For the longest time I thought that just wanting to be a writer would make me one. That's like saying if you sit in the kitchen long enough you will produce a tasty chocolate cake. No, you must follow a recipe and making sure you have the ingredients needed for the cake sure helps, too.

Carve out time to write. Keep at it. Every job has aspects about it you don't like. Writing is no different. You may want to watch that special on TV or go out with friends. Then tell me, when will you write? Make time. Writing has to be a priority. If you wait to write only when there is nothing else to do, you will have nothing to show for it. Trust me; you have to guard your writing time. Set a goal. Want to have fifty pages completed by end of the month? Have a query letter for your novel out to an agent by the first of next year? Get busy!

4) Novelists Need to Share with God

Have you ever poured out your hopes and dreams to God? Have you ever sat in church and asked him to lead you on the writing path he wants for you? James 1:5 tells us not to be afraid to ask for wisdom. Ask, believe it will be supplied, and don't doubt. Then listen and God will guide you. As with every part of our lives, God needs to be the Overseer of our writing.

Bring God into your writing dream. He is, after all, the Giver of Talent. Your creativity is a gift to you from him.

5) Novelists Need Other Sources

I am amazed at the number of aspiring authors out there who have never purchased Writer's Digest or The Writer. These magazines and others that have valuable information about honing your skills are vital to the writer’s toolbox. Subscribing to online e-zines will also increase your writing potential.

There are a number of Christian writers' conferences held every year. Agents, editors, and authors are often on the faculty and their workshops and expertise can inspire you along this journey.

If you are serious about getting your novel completed and sent to an agent, you need to know about the process. A wealth of books sits on shelves, and purchasing a few at the bookstore or borrowing from the library will help to build your creative muscles.

Here are a few I recommend to help improve your writing as well as those on finding agents and how the publishing world works. You need to be prepared because you certainly don't want to be clueless when your big break happens and an editor wants to buy your novel.

* Fiction Writer's Workshop by Josip Novakovich
* Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier with Frances Spaz Leighton
* How Not to Write a Novel by David Armstrong
* The Sell Your Novel Toolkit by Elizabeth Lyon
* The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published by Sheree Bykofsky and Jennifer Basye Sander

If you want to be under the tutelage of a pro, take an online fiction writer’s class or a continuing education writing class at your community college.

6) Novelists Need Encouragement

Yes, yes, we don't want to belittle any of the encouragement we can get! Let it come from our friends, groups, those who have read an essay or piece we wrote for the local paper--the more praise the merrier.

We must also remember that not everyone is going to love everything we've written or that we will write. So, once again, develop that thick skin and know that the motivation to continue on has to come from within. You are your best motivator.

So set yourself at your writing place, turn on some music, block out the rest of the world, and write.

Keep all of these tools handy and use them often. Let your mantra be from Ephesians 2:10: "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Writing the Heartache: What Does It Mean?

When Daniel died, writing took on a whole new meaning for me. Writing was my sanity, my lifeline to coping with the tragedy of losing a child to cancer. There were times I couldn't wait to rush to the shelter of my home so that I could pull out my pen and journal and pour out my heart. In the early days of grief, I needed a way to organize my muddled thoughts, work out my emotions, and scribble my prayers and fears.

Writing is an essential tool in grief. Writing calms us, lowers our blood pressure, slows our pulse, and keeps our minds from going crazy. When we can write out our feelings, they no longer loom large and out of control. By putting them on paper, we have contained them to a workable space in our journal. We can read them over and over and analyze, or we can choose to never look at our words again. Whatever our decision, the act of writing from our broken heart is healing.

My next Writing the Heartache online course starts August 24th and runs to September 25th. In these five weeks, I'll send participants assignments to complete via email. When these are sent back to me, I'll offer critique, support, and suggestions. We'll discuss writing for publication as well.

Outline for Writing the Heartache Writing Workshop
1. Week One: Introduction - Getting to Know You
2. Week Two: Introducing Your Loved One Through Poetry
3. Week Three: Writing a Letter to Your Loved One and to Others
4. Week Four: Writing for Change - The Essay
5. Week Five: Writing for Publication

Join us! Visit my website AliceWisler for more information.

Monday, July 20, 2009

This Week's Featured Author at I Just Finished

I'm happy to be the featured author this week at I Just Finished ... The Conversation of Books. How nice to see the photos of my book covers. Thanks, Leslie and Renee!

Monday, July 13, 2009

How I Got My Agent

Read this post and others on the Writer's Digest blog for
stories about how authors got their literary agents.

Books A Latte

Thanks to Takiela, for the interview at Books A Latte
Click here to read about How Sweet It Is and to
hear the interview.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The speech that will never be heard

Speech written for Rain Song at The Christy Awards in case Rain Song
wins the New Novel Category
(Rain Song is a 2009 Christy Award Finalist.)

Well, my first thought is: Surely, a mistake has been made. Quickly, I’ll add—that’s okay; I’ll accept it! Wow, what a huge honor this is for me.

When I see the cover of Rain Song (such a beautiful cover Bethany House has created!), I recall all the feelings I held on that journey to publication. I think relinquish is the word I tie the most closely to Rain Song. On Sunday mornings in church I was constantly begging God for someone to believe in my story and accept both the novel and me. Some Sundays I was weary of begging and just asked for strength to carry on with all that was happening in my life at the time—a bipolar husband who abandoned my three kids and me, my children’s tears, our lack of finances, and theft of cars and home three times in one month by a young man who later was televised nation-wide as a murderer. They do say that truth is stranger than fiction! I was also challenged to trust that in God’s timing, my manuscript, which I’d titled The Kimono Lady Sings, would be accepted. However, I’d been rejected by at least seven-hundred agents already; were there any left? I wrote, I edited, I changed the narrative from first person to third person and then back to first again. I read my favorite authors and felt inferior. Time and time again, I handed this novel over to God during worship services by forming a fist and then letting my fingers open to an empty palm.

Thanks for allowing me into the Published Club, Bethany House. I’ve wanted to be accepted ever since I wore red tights and could staple my stick-figured-illustrated stories together. And thank you for this Christy Award, one I will cherish for a lifetime. I also thank all my readers, my critics, my encouragers, my agent Kristin Lindstrom, the team at Bethany House, and my children. I reserve the loudest applause for my biggest fan—my new husband, Carl. Like Ducee and Iva in Rain Song, I can’t sing, but that won’t stop me from trying. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The new boat

This summer I've been thinking a lot about summers of my youth
in Nojiri-ko, Japan. Buying a boat has much to do with this
reminiscing. As my husband, kids and I power over the local
lakes (we like Falls Lake), I recall the days of cruising
around Lake Nojiri in Nagano-ken, a mountain resort where I
spent summers with my family and other missionary kids.
The sun was bright; few clouds sat in the sky. I was tan, young,
content, and whenever water sprayed my face, as the sailboat
sailed across the lake, I felt I was truly experiencing one
of life's finest gifts---boating.

Today, I'm glad that I can give that gift to my three children.
The new boat is named Rain Song, after my first novel. That
was my husband Carl's idea. A good one, I'll have to agree.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Spitting watermelon seeds

The Fourth of July, our country's independence day, is nearly here. What comes to mind besides the anticipated fireworks, food and parades? Watermelon, and watermelon seeds.

Actually, it all goes back to my son Daniel. He was confined to the hospital July 4, 1996, getting his monthly chemo infusion. A friend brought a large watermelon when she and her mother came to visit.

Daniel was excited to have his own watermelon. We cut slices and he spit the seeds at this nearly-thirteen-year-old friend. The friend later told me she hadn't the heart to spit seeds at a cancer patient.

After we had our fill, we stored the watermelon in the bathtub in the bathroom connected to Daniel's room.

The Fourth of July will always remind me of a little bald-headed boy with an infectious laugh who loved watermelon almost as much as he loved his siblings and parents.

Daniel did not live to see another Independence Day.