December 29, 2008

Year End Report

I do a little bookkeeping, both professionally and as a volunteer for my local ACFW chapter. In accountant's terms, the final bottom line for the year tells you where you're at, leaving little to debate.

The bottom line on my personal "P&L" for 2008 aint lookin so good.

It's been a great, rough year for me. I've learned a lot, and unfortunately, a lot of what I learned came in typical Camille form: The Hard Way.

As a writer, I have been given much. I've received writing opportunities I hadn't dreamed of, including a scholarship to attend Mt Hermon, invitations to send a manuscript to editors, and a semi-finaling entry in a publishing contest. I've received encouragement from authors, editors, agents, and readers (ahem, thanks Mom). I've received wisdom & help from generous mentors like Mary DeMuth, Randy Ingermanson, Ane Mulligan and many, many others. I've been blessed with a tight-knit critique group that encourages me and pushes me to do better. I've met dozens writers locally, nationally & online who understand this calling and this journey, and who graciously sharpen and cheer one another on as artists and as business professionals. Like winning the lottery, it seemed all this was just handed over to me unearned. What's the catch?

Balance has never been high on my list of strengths. Okay, it's not even ON the list. Imbalance is acceptable when a little off-beat humor is in order, but it tends to be hard on relationships. It can be a relationship killer, actually. For me, with the blessing of writer's groups and new friends and opportunities and newfound craft sharpening tools came a new obsession with all things writing. And when I say obsession, I mean in true Camille form. ALL OR NOTHIN. Which means that over this past year, I have neglected some critical things in my life: my husband, my kids, and my Lord. And the fruit of this folly has become painfully ripe.

This year, as a Wife, Mom & Child of God, I've learned some things, as previously mentioned, The Hard Way. Sorry if getting personal makes you squirm, but if my purpose in life is to communicate, then what I say must be true, though I'll do my best to say it in a way that stings me more than it does you. (Hey, I made a rhyme. Who knew.)

While focused on finishing a novel this year, I pulled away from ministry, functions, friends. I've put spending time on writing/researching/networking over spending time with my husband and kids. I've learned that after doing this for a while, lines of communication break down and walls begin to form. I've also neglected time with the Lord, time in his word and in prayer, and it shows. I've done and said things I shouldn't have, not done and said things I should have, unintentionally hurting people I love, borne out of thoughtlessness or selfishness. That really sucks. Or stinks, more accurately. Like rotting flesh.

I've made some poor decisions this year, some either as a direct or indirect result of the way I've spent my time. But those writing blessings, answered prayers, and opportunities have made it clear to me that the Lord is behind this writing gig. What was He thinking giving this to me? Why would He give such things to someone who can't handle it? It's like dropping a lottery windfall on a spendaholic. Was this a test? If so, I flunked big time.

But this is the way Camille learns life lessons. The Hard Way.

Following the lottery analogy, I'd say I overspent this year's allowance, find myself 'in debt' at year's end.

I'm not one to make New Year's Resolutions - I don't see the point of resolving to do something just because you flip a page on your cheesy dollar store calendar. If you need to make changes, why wait until January 1st? There's no more magic in the beginning of a new month/year/century/millenneum than there is in a new day.

But since 2008's bottom line is the starting point for 2009, I can see the red, see where I'm out of balance, see where changes need to be made. I would like to write another novel this year, but I would like to do this with balance, with my family's blessing, and with the Lord's help. This means making some major changes in the way I roll, but I know now that these changes were needed all along. The blessings of this last year put me in a place that forced me to see that I cannot continue to spread myself thin any longer, giving less than my best to those I love most, tossing crumbs and lip-service to God and to my family.

I'm thankful for what God has given and shown me. I'm also very grateful for the grace and forgiveness shown me. And most of all, I am blessed beyond measure by my wonderful family. Dan: thank you your patience, forgiveness, encouragement, support, your sacrifices for your family, your purposeful, steadfast faith---for everything.

Dan, Shane, Ben and Janae, Mom and Dad: I'm sorry I haven't been there. I love you.

December 19, 2008

Question For YOU

First off, if you’re a writer and you’re still looking for your ‘voice’. . . STOP!

In response to the question posed in my last blog post, some of my favorite authors, editors and agents generously offered their thoughts on what it takes to develop that essential yet elusive element called author voice. Do yourself a favor and read their comments.

So all this excellent advice has motivated me to get Down and Dirty and really WRITE. Allow what I’ve learned so far to gel, while tossing off the gloves and throwing all sorts of gutsy, inelegant punches.

“So, Camille,” you say, checking your watch. “Did you say you had a question?”

Yeah, I do. I’ve been brainstorming to create a new storyworld, new plot, characters and conflicts for my next novel. But after 10 pages of rambling, it became clear that I have TWO novels. One involves immigrants and would take place in a Depression era setting—a time, people and way of life completely foreign to me requiring MAJOR steepage into research, and the other—a contemporary story set in a fictional town I already know very well featuring a sharp-tongued heroine with a chip on her shoulder. And a growling Fat Boy.

“So, what—you’re saying she’s like YOU?”

Aw, look at you, keeping right up. No. Let’s get one thing clear. I do NOT resemble that chick in any way.

But let’s just say I did. I wonder which story idea would allow me the freedom to write with abandon? The one that would require me to constantly think about idioms, social perceptions, customs both American and of the immigrants, attitudes, lifestyle, and the natural rigors of daily life? Or the story that flows freely and requires no interruption to check every word and every move for accuracy?

“So,” you say with a taut little nod, “you want help deciding which of these stories to work on next?”

Your lips look really tight right now, by the way. Makes you look like a muppet.

I guess if I’m going to ask for help deciding which story to write, I should first state my goal. And I’d do that if I knew what IT was.

Is my goal to work on a story that will give me the freedom to write with abandon and develop my voice? Or is my goal to lay down an intriguing storyworld and build a drama/suspense that reads like a killer box-office hit movie? Which project should I commit to for the next year? Which one is most worth my time and energy?

And not to be forgotten is that most important voice, that of the Master. The Psalmist said, “Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

Yes. Absolutely right. But I’d like to know: is the Lord a Pantser or Plotter??

December 6, 2008

Still Hearing Voices . . .

I play bass guitar and learned to train my ears to hear the bass lines in music. It was cool when I discovered the ability to recognize not only lines, but certain artists’ styles. (Sting & Clapton are great for that.) I am now hoping to apply that mysteriously astute part of my little brain to writing.

I am currently working through a sizeable To Be Read pile. I recently finished reading The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I’m sorry to say I had not read her until now. Her voice hit a chord right from the start (and her first novel!) For some whacked reason, I have a hard time finding books written in a style and voice that interest me. And I KNOW there are tons of really great writers out there—so obviously the problem is with Camille. One author whose voice grabbed me on page one and latched on for the rest of the book was W. Dale Cramer with Summer of Light. So did Sara Gruen with Water For Elephants.

I also just finished reading The Secret Life of Bees, another of those highly acclaimed works I never got around to reading until now. Now Sue Monk Kidd has a smooth, soothing voice and handles touchy, painful topics in a sensitive way. I’m currently reading Lisa Samson’s Embrace Me, and next up is Olson’s Shade, Ingermanson’s Oxygen (again), then Cramer’s Sutter’s Cross and Levi’s Will, and Samson’s Quaker Summer. I await Mary DeMuth's newest series. Right now, I plan to read more of Cramer and Samson in an effort to identify their author voice, especially when each story is told from the view of different characters.

Lisa Samson makes me mad. Her ‘voice’ is confident, knows when and how it may break the rules of writing, and brings such a rich hue to the story. I don’t mean to compare my work to hers (good grief, I may be green, but I’m not stupid) but I can’t help noticing the freedom of speech with which she writes and how glaring a contrast it is to my reserved, rule-strapped little writing voice.

For now. I am an obsessed student of this writing craft and I WILL learn to free my voice, even if it kills me. :)

Maybe all this reading will shed a wee bit of light on the whole “author voice” mystery and help answer the burning question you and I and are dying to ask these authors: how do you, as a writer, keep your wry wit, polished profundity and organic originality intact while following the Rules of Great Writing . . . or at least giving them a reverent nod in passing?

Dare me to ask them?



I've published three novels and a novella (more about those on my website.) I've been writing all my life, but decided in 2007 to get serious about being published.

I love action movies and Jane Austen. (she’s dead, I know. I found that out when I tried to get her to endorse my novel)

They let me play Bass guitar and sing in a worship band.

I can produce 4 dozen homemade cinnamon rolls in a flash for a crowd of drooling young adults. Or publishing house editors.

I used to have a Harley. Now we have twenty-something kids. Decent trade, really. The window-rattling grumble isn't quite the same, but we are still enjoying the ride.

I am a proud Grammy. Don't even think about taking candy from my babies.

I hate shopping (Yes, I'm aware that I'm a girl)

I've lived in Oregon all my life, spent time in Eugene (Go DUCKS!), Springfield, Reedsport, and Smith River. Which is not really a town, but a river, about 70 miles long, a tributary of the Umpqua River in southwest Oregon.

Although it's not a town, it is a community with a strong sense of pioneer history. It's cool to say you've lived there, especially if you lived there during the days when you had to take a boat to school. No joke! The old farmhouse my grandfather and my mother grew up in still stands, nestled into a narrow, pasture carpeted valley, complete with a swimmin' hole and its own 'crick'. It may turn up in one of my novels.

There's a rumor that my ancestors had a connection with the Mafia back in Sicily. I used to fantasize as a kid about a big black limo with tinted windows pulling up and whisking me away from school. Ahhh. So THAT'S why I'm having so much trouble conjugating my dangling participles now.

NOT RANDOM: I am challenged by the truth and amazed by the grace of God. And it's either in spite of or because of that grace that I hold a PhD in Learning Stuff the Hard Way.