Sunday, January 25, 2015

just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1, NKJV)

I think sometimes the words of Scripture just slide over our minds without absorption or comprehension, especially if we were raised in church or been a believer for many years. This is one of those passages for me, or used to be ... now, I hear the deep, rich voice of an aged apostle, his inner fire burning down to a bed of embers by years of service to the Lord—and suffering in the course of that.

Maybe it’s having a fair bit of suffering under my belt as well, some of it rather fresh.

Why does this stuff happen to us, anyway?

12 But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, 13 so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; 14 and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1, NKJV)

Beyond the sometimes nebulous “all things work together for good to those who love God” ... sometimes the Lord gives us a glimpse of the solid and immediate. “For the furtherance of the gospel” is just another way of saying, “so that the reality of redemption of grace will become apparent to more people who need it.” Paul at this point in his life was imprisoned in Rome for his faith. It’s easy for us, on this end of the Church Age, to be a little apathetic about the reality of that. But it’s the next part that gives me pause: Paul’s imprisonment effectively put him and his faith on display for the whole palace guard—and other believers became more vocal about their own faith.

I can see that, in the case of believers in our time, speaking out about various world events while safe in our own homes on this side of the ocean, but ... how can that be, right there in the same city?

Maybe it was that in seeing Paul’s confidence as he endured various sufferings, they realized even if they too were imprisoned for their faith—or worse—God was still very much in control. That they’d be given the grace, and the words, in every situation.

And maybe that’s what it’s about, that continuing, daily grace.

We each have our own little prisons, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. I think we all question why, at some point or another, but do we really believe that God can use those prisons not only for our good, but for the furtherance of His grace and mercy?

Walking in love, in grace, doesn’t mean we aren’t struggling with the situation—even Paul struggled mightily at times, and speaks in other places of being discouraged almost to the point of death. It simply means daring to continue to live out our faith despite the chains, and trust that until He frees us, God not only can but will use the situation “for the furtherance of the gospel.”

Can we do that? Can we dare to trust Him in everything?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A day in the life of a this writer. . .

I love telling stories! It’s a blessing to able to work from home and be somewhat flexible with my schedule. I say “somewhat” because now that are children are grown, I write full-time, Monday through Friday, for six to seven hours a day. My most creative time of the day is in the morning—after about 3 o’clock smoke begins to come out of my ears!

To offset all those hours spent at my desk, I go to the gym three or four times a week. At 6 a.m.! When we get home, I’ll usually start a load of laundry, make breakfast, put something in the crock pot for supper -- basically get things in shape so I don’t have to think about them for the rest of the day!
           
After hubby leaves for work, I spend some time with God, which means praying, reading scripture and doing some sketching/journaling. By the time I finish, it’s about 8:30. If it gets later than that, Bailey and Sophie (my dog and cat) will wait for me at the top of the stairs. They have a routine, too—sleeping beside my desk while I work!
           
I know some author friends who write in their jammies but it’s always worked best for me to treat writing as a “job”. I get dressed and put on a little makeup (most days!), and then I go upstairs to my office. For some reason, it helps me make that psychological transition from “home” to “work.” Once I’m there, I don’t answer the phone unless it’s my husband or one of our three children (they know I’m there!), and I try not to check email or Facebook page until my ten o’clock break.  
           
That said, one of the most challenging things about working from home is the many ways I can procrastinate if I get stuck during the writing process! Watching the birds outside the window. Warming up my tea. . .three times. Rearranging my bookshelf. Searching for chocolate in the desk drawer. . .
    
I wish I could be one of those writers who take their laptop to Starbucks (although I would have to drive 45 minutes to get to one!), but I do my best thinking in a quiet setting. No television, no Pandora. I love music, though, and I have a playlist for every book I write. It’s on my iPod, so when I’m at the gym, I’m getting inspiration for the characters before I put my fingers on the keyboard.
    
My office overlooks the woods, so it’s a very inspiring place to work. I’m surrounded by photographs of my family and things that are special to me, like a coffee cup from the Strand Bookstore in New York City and seashells my son brought me from Hawaii. I have a small, free-standing chalkboard that I write quotes, thoughts, or Bible verses on. Right now, I have a quote from Ann Voskamp. “The way you live your ordinary days is what adds up to your one extraordinary life.” Love that one!
           
In arm’s reach are some of my favorite “tools of the trade”. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, Story by Robert McKee, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, these books sharpen my skills while Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle and One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp challenge and encourage my soul.
    
I’m kind of old school in that I do my character studies on gigantic Post-It notes. I used to be a
total seat-of-the-pants writer but after attending some amazing workshops by authors who are plotters (and writing myself into many, many corners!) I’ve started using a combination of the two. When I’m writing a long contemporary romance like The Dandelion Field, there are more characters and a lot more going on, so plotting keeps the story from bunching up in places.
           
Fun fact: When I finish a manuscript and hit the “send” button, I celebrate the next day by cleaning my desk . . . which only proves that writers can be a little quirky! J But then again, we have to be. The writing life is exhilarating and exhausting, it’s input and it’s output, it’s a career but it’s also a calling. . .all at the same time!

But I can’t not write.

“My heart bursts its banks,
spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words.”
                                                Psalm 45:1 (The Message) 
           

Please visit my website at kathrynspringer.com and sign up to receive my free newsletter, or find me on Facebook at kathrynspringerauthor!
  

USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Springer grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. As a child she spent hours at her mother’s typewriter, plunking out stories about horses that her older brother “published” (he had the stapler) for a nominal fee. Kathryn loves writing about imperfect people, small towns and a great big God. When she isn’t at the computer, you’ll find her curled up (in the sun!) with a good book, spending time with her family and friends or walking the trails near her country home.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

I’m sure my friend, Beth, didn’t know her question would end up in a blog when she sent me an email last week! She also didn’t know that the emergency room doctor had found a blood clot in my mother-in-law’s lung so I had been dividing my time between the computer and the hospital. She didn’t know that my emotional seams were beginning to unravel a bit. 
What a nice, “writerly” way of saying I was about to lose it! 
When I sit down at the computer every morning, I bring with me all the things, big and small and in-between, that are on my mind and in my heart. Prayer requests from friends and family. The items on my to-do list.
It was Beth’s question that helped me reset my perspective. Because life happens and we write about. . .well. . .life, right? 
And when life gets difficult. . .so can writing.
One piece of advice writers hear over and over is, “write what you know.” It makes sense, doesn’t it? When I write what I know, it gives me credibility. I can create a town like Banister Falls in The Dandelion Field because I’m a small-town, Midwestern girl. When I describe the changing seasons or a sunrise over a northern Wisconsin lake or an eagle in flight, the reader can see it because I’ve seen it. 
Those kind of details make for a good story, but I think a great story is the one where I’m not afraid to wade into the deep emotional waters with my characters instead of standing on the shoreline, taking notes. The books on my keeper shelf have one thing in common—they didn’t just entertain me for a few hours, they burrowed right into my heart because I felt a strong connection with the characters. It might be because we share a common experience or dream the same dream. Struggle with the same things. 
And that’s where the “life” part comes in! 
When life—and writing—get difficult, I take this a step further. “Write what I know” becomes, “Write what I know about God.” 
So. . .what do I know about God? 
I know He is faithful. I know He is kind. I know He gives beauty for ashes. I know He heals. Restores. Blesses. 
I know these things because I’ve experienced them over the years. I experience them every time I remember to look at Him instead of my circumstances.
In The Dandelion Field, Ginevieve Lightly is a single mom who finds out her teenage daughter is pregnant. She doesn’t know God, doesn’t know His character. . .but she meets someone who does and it changes her. Gin discovers that God can take the pieces of a broken past and turn it into a beautiful beginning. 
He did that for me, too. 
    What I know about God becomes the spiritual thread that runs through the pages. And the really amazing thing? While I’m writing my character’s story—stories of grace and courage and restoration and hope—He is weaving those things into my story, too. 
No, we never write in a vacuum. 
Thank you, God.
USA Today bestselling author Kathryn Springer grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. As a child she spent hours at her mother’s typewriter, plunking out stories about horses that her older brother “published” (he had the stapler) for a nominal fee. Kathryn loves writing about imperfect people, small towns and a great big God. When she isn’t at the computer, you’ll find her curled up (in the sun!) with a good book, spending time with her family and friends or walking the trails near her country home. 

Please visit my website at kathrynspringer.com and sign up to receive my free newsletter, or find me on Facebook at kathrynspringerauthor! 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

At a certain point in our lives, we’d like to be able to settle in and just “do life.” Not think about the things we struggled with when we were younger. Move beyond the griefs, the heartaches ... hopefully even our own issues and baggage.

Real life doesn’t work like that.

Real life is, as I’ve written before, a journey, not to be finished until we step from this life into eternity. Patience is in putting one foot in front of the other, regardless of how weary we are. Courage is being willing to face whatever rears up in the path, demanding our attention and energy. A loss might be decades past, barely registering now as a dull ache ... a hurt from a friend might be long scarred over ... but one blow (or several) from the enemy of our souls, whether in a news report or careless words from those we love, can hit us where we’re most vulnerable and leaves us gasping and bleeding all over again.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of regaining our equilibrium and raising that shield of faith again. But sometimes God uses that to reveal that we haven’t really healed, we’ve only ignored the stinking, dirty bandage over a still-oozing wound, where things are embedded that really need to come out.

Time to pull off that bandage and throw it away. Let the Spirit wash the wound with the Word, reminding us of God’s relentless love and everlasting goodness, in all circumstances.

Let God reach in, despite the pain, and draw out the shards of bitterness, resentment, insecurity.

Then ... move on. Leave it in His hands. Learn to walk in true strength, instead of merely compensating.

And be prepared, the next time He taps us on the shoulder and lets us know that something needs attention, that this is a process, a journey. That we’re a constant work in progress, regardless of how old we are or how long we’ve walked with the Lord.

But someday ... someday, we’ll be home. And we’ll be finished works of art.

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ... (Philippians 1, NKJV)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Many writers are introverts. They are happiest when they’re squirreled away with their computer and their imaginary friends. But for the extroverted writer, like me, a day or two of solitude is about all I can take.

Shortly after my last child left home, our dog died. The quiet was deafening. It wasn’t long before I was climbing the walls. One day I suggested to my husband I wanted a new dog…a big one so I wouldn’t be lonely or afraid to stay by myself. My husband was happy with our pet-free environment, but I’m a dog lover at heart; it’s why I write a dog into most of my stories. My Carthage Chronicles series has two of them.

So I launched my “Lynne needs a dog campaign” and began to pray.

The next Sunday at church a friend approached me with a picture on her phone of this beautiful rescue dog in need of a good home.

“Part Golden Retriever, part Great Pyrenees,” she guessed. “If he doesn’t find a home today, he’ll be put down first thing Monday morning. It would be a shame if he couldn’t have one last good afternoon.” My eyes darted between her hopeful face and the sad-looking creature in the picture.

I showed the picture to my husband.

My husband shook his head. “He’s big.”

We both agreed we weren’t ready to be tied down, but giving this doomed creature a nice afternoon was kind of like giving a man on death row a good last meal. “A real Christian thing to do,” I pleaded.

“But only for the afternoon,” my husband warned.

A few hours later, a seventy-pound mutt leaped from my friend’s car. I looked at my husband and said, “He is big.” The dog galloped across the yard, skidded to a halt at my feet, sat, and cocked his head. I looked into those big brown eyes and fell in love. From that moment on, this stray was my dog.

His plumed tail reminded me of a Roman centurion’s helmet so I named him Roman. He needed
shots, grooming, and serious housebreaking. His powerful tail could clear my coffee table with one swipe. It was nothing for Roman to snatch a loaf of bread off the counter and eat the whole thing. On walks he dragged me like a plow. Despite Roman’s ill manners, the house was noisy and busy again, and someone needed me. I felt alive. Soon, I was writing better than ever.

One chilly Saturday everything changed. Roman joined us on a 5K run sponsored by the hospital where my husband works. Dogs were welcome, so we took Roman. The director of animal therapy noticed Roman (because everyone notices a dog the size of a small horse). She was so impressed by Roman’s sweet nature, she suggested I train him to become one of the medical-therapy dogs who work in the cancer center.

“You’re kidding. I didn’t know there were dogs that did this.”

She gave me her card and told me, “Studies show petting a dog can lower stress, blood pressure, and lift spirits.”

I couldn’t argue with that statistic. My whole attitude about life had changed since I adopted Roman.

“My mother died of cancer,” I told the director. “If Roman and I can ease someone’s pain, even for a few minutes, I’m on board.”

Roman and I have completed several levels of training and testing.

  
My dog and I are now certified to work in the hospitals.




Twice a month we visit the oncology wards where I watch Roman bring smiles and relief to the frightened and hurting.

On days when I’m stuck at home writing, I stroke the head of my hairy writing pal who is curled at my feet and I don’t feel so alone.



As Roman and I work together, I see God’s purpose. I thought I was supposed to rescue this dog. Turns out, this rescue dog was born to rescue not only the broken and hurting; this dog was born to rescue me.


I love how God comes into our lives and rescues us from the death sentence we deserve. That’s why the theme of rescue will always show up in my adventure stories.



About the author


Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications and is a professional acting coach and playwright with several full-length musicals to her credit. She likes to write stories that launch modern women into ancient adventures, such as Healer of Carthage (2014), which was the first in The Carthage Chronicles series. Return to Exile is the second, and Valley of Decision is expected September 22, 2015. Gentry loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog.




To keep up with Lynne Gentry, visit www.lynnegentry.com, become a fan on Facebook (Author-Lynne-Gentry) or follow her on Twitter (@Lynne_Gentry), YouTube and Pinterest (lynnegentry7).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Historical writers love it when their research reveals a truth that is stranger than fiction…unless the truth they discover is one of their own buried secrets. 

A few months ago, I was deep into the edits of Return to Exile, the second book in my Carthage Chronicles series. The plague in third-century Carthage was ramping up. People were dying. My frantic heroine, Dr. Lisbeth Hastings, didn’t know what to do. 

I was editing a paragraph about measles (the mysterious malady I’d chosen to inflict upon the inhabitants of this series and had researched meticulously) when it suddenly hit me. Staring at the computer screen, I broke out in a sweat.

I was writing about a virus I’d had as a child … and I had almost died. How could I have forgotten?

Suddenly, I was eight years old, lying on the couch and burning up with fever in our drafty old Kansas farmhouse. The sights, sounds, smells, even the foul, wet-chicken-feather taste of my blister-coated tongue came rushing back. Every lost detail was now painfully vivid.  

It was Christmas Eve. In the corner the blue lights of the tree twinkled. My mother and grandmother hovered around me. They placed a cool cloth on my forehead and tried to coerce me into drinking hot tea. Deep racking coughs ripped from my raw throat. I struggled for air but couldn’t catch my breath. Mom plastered menthol rub all over my chest while my grandmother constructed a breathing tent she made from an old sheet draped over some stretched-out coat hangers. All night my family boiled water on the stove, carried the hot pot to my bedside, and fanned the steam toward me. I could hear the adults discussing whether or not I should be taken to the hospital. I remember my mother’s frantic voice. I remember being very afraid.

How could I have blocked this memory from my mind? Even more unsettling: how could I have written nearly 300,000 words about this deadly virus and NOT remember something this traumatic? The implications left me shaking. What other memories or feelings were buried deep inside of me?

As I writer, my job is to go deep into the minds and memories of my characters; to discover their secrets and capitalize upon their fears. This incident, however, taught me an important lesson: all of my characters carry a little part of me. My fears, my dreams, my flaws show up as various traits in them. For example, in Return to Exile, Dr. Lisbeth Hastings is desperate to save those dying of measles. As I was writing, I could hear the panic in her voice. Without access to modern medicine, what could she do? In a last ditch effort, Lisbeth and her mother built vaporizer tents and placed warm poultices on the chests of those struggling to breathe. Now I know where I got the idea to research homespun medical remedies. I know why I could see the little vaporizer tents in my head.

Curious if I’d plagiarized any other memories from my past, I carefully searched my Return to Exile manuscript. I discovered the bull chase scene is fraught with the exact same terror I experienced growing up on a dairy farm. The one animal I knew to avoid was the bull. Holstein bulls have dangerous temperaments and a reputation for causing serious injuries. One day I went to the pasture to herd the cows in for milking.  Less than a hundred yards away, our bull issued a deep, braying bellow that scattered the herd. His head went down and in a split second 2,000 pounds of pure aggression charged straight at me.

I turned and scrambled toward the fence. I don’t remember how I did it but I managed to shinny up those wooden slates and hurl myself over the top board. I fell to the other side a split second before the bull’s massive head hit the fence with the force of a freight train. I stood totally paralyzed and unable to move as he rammed the fence again and again. 

An author’s experiences and memories can’t help but show up in their stories. We bring our pasts with us. This revelation into my past has taught me two important writing lessons. First, as a writer I must dig deep into my past and discover the secrets buried in my memories. Second, I can’t be afraid to live and experience new things. They are exciting fodder for future characters.


Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications and is a professional acting coach and playwright with several full-length musicals to her credit. She likes to write stories that launch modern women into ancient adventures, such as Healer of Carthage (2014), which was the first in The Carthage Chronicles series. Return to Exile is the second, and Valley of Decision is expected September 22, 2015. Gentry loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog.


To keep up with Lynne Gentry, visit www.lynnegentry.com, become a fan on Facebook (Author-Lynne-Gentry) or follow her on Twitter (@Lynne_Gentry), YouTube and Pinterest (lynnegentry7).

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