Leave the Luggage Behind

luggage“Where are your bags?” is the most frequent question I’ve been getting lately from the friends I stay with when I travel for author events. I show up at their doors with a small tote in my hands, and they look around me for the rest.

“This is it,” I say, and they marvel at how little my bag is.

For some reason, I guess everyone expects me to be loaded down with luggage, dragging along a carry-on case, a tote on my shoulder and more bags to come. While that may have been the norm for me years ago on the rare occasions I flew somewhere with my five kids, it’s no longer my style.

These days, I fly with minimal baggage, and I love it. Instead of packing car seats, food snacks, toys, games, and multiple outfits for all, I get a kick out of taking as little as possible. I actually look forward to living out of one small bag for three or four days, since it requires me to trim my wardrobe to only the essentials I need. Once on the road, I don’t have to make any clothing choices since I already made them when I packed; I save time and effort with less to manage. Limiting myself forces me to evaluate priorities and pack accordingly. There’s no room (literally!) for changing my mind, or my clothing options.

The result is perfect for traveling: I have what I need and no more. It makes me feel mentally and emotionally light and free, and I don’t have to physically exhaust myself lugging extra bags. To fly unfettered by baggage is a wonderful thing in a world of extra luggage fees, delays, and lost bags.

If only I could do the same with my journey through life!

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep,” Jesus tells his disciples when he sends them out to preach and minister in Matthew 10. Clearly, our Lord knew the value of traveling light! Without all that extra baggage to keep track of, his disciples were free to devote themselves to the work to which they had been called. Unencumbered with material concerns, they could focus on the priorities, the essentials of Christian mission.

I’ve found that is also true of traveling through life as a Christian author: when I keep my eyes on the Kingdom, everything else loses its urgency. Sure, I’d like to make more money (who wouldn’t? travel expenses do mount up no matter how many free beds you can find!) and it would be nice to have readers flocking to me in droves. Yet when I’m focused on the essential task of sharing God with others, it only takes one heart-felt ‘thank-you’ from a reader to know that I am ‘worth my keep.’

How do you pack for your journey?

Four Lessons From the Speaking Circuit

Behind the back copy

For 20 years now I’ve dragged a suitcase of books from speaking event to speaking event, telling stories, signing books, listening to people in line innocently yammering on while someone else is waiting impatiently to get an autograph.

I’ve spoken from the Statehouse in Boston to a rain-tattered canopy outside a firehall while firefighters let children blast the siren, from hotel ballrooms with nearly 500 people to three people in an assisted-living home, two of whom seemed comatose by the time I’d finished my intro.

Here, then, are four bits of advice about using your speaking engagements to sell books, 19 of which I’ve written, a few of which have actually sold:

Go where you’re wanted.

I’ve spent far too much of my life trying to convince people that they should believe in me and far too little time appreciating those who do. In the last few years, though, I’ve wised up.

Push on the doors, sure. Push hard. But if they don’t open, stop pushing and go find another door that might. Don’t let your pride get in the way. It’s far more fun doing a small-time gig where people appreciate your being there than beating your head on the door of some larger or more prestigious organization or event that never will.

Partner with one person who believes in you in the community where you’re going to speak.

It was a blustery, rainy Friday night, and I had a speaking gig “up river” in a small community. I honestly wondered if anyone other than the woman who’d organized the talk would come.

After the event, I walked out to my car with more than $500 in book sales, a stomach full of homemade pie and an evening of memories with a bunch of warm, wonderful people.

Why? Because that one woman was an “influencer,” someone people along the river respected. An organizer, someone who can bring an event together. An ally, someone who believed in me.

Someone like that can do more to help your event be a success than hundreds of tweets.

Take time to get to know the place where you’re speaking or the organization you’re speaking to.

Whether you’re selling books afterward or not, this is simply the right thing to do. Why do concert crowds go nuts when some well-known performer mentions something about their town? Because people take pride in where they live and appreciate it when others do, too.

It shows respect. It shows you care. It shows that you’re not just “mailing it in.”

In one of my books, 52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life, I devote a chapter to a simple remark that one of the heavenly angels says to Clarence Odbody before the “Angel Second Class” is sent to earth to help a desperate George Bailey: “If you’re going to help a man, you want to know something about him, don’t you?”

Take the time to know something about your audience. Don’t just do a couple of Google searches. Talk to your host. Make a few calls. Do some reporting.

Finally, be interesting.

Never have people had so many options with which to spend their time, so many excuses for not leaving their home.

So, if they’re giving up an evening for you, forget the “first, do no harm” edict inaccurately linked to the Hippocratic Oath. (By me in one book!) No, first, do not put people to sleep. Say something that people haven’t heard before. Or say it in a way they haven’t heard before. Tell jokes. Dispense information. Inspire life-changing action.

But, above all, be interesting. I recently went to an author’s event just to see what other writers do. The guy spent the entire evening reading from his book.

Yawn.

That’s the reader’s job. As writers, we should spend our time offering audiences insight that our books do not. Our stories might be the impetus that draws people to our events, but give them something more than a rehash of our book or books.

Besides, if you’re interesting, people are more apt to believe your books will be, too. And there’s no better way to be asked back.

Writing Through the Storm

No author in her right mind sets out to write a novel in the middle of the craziest year of her mid life. But every author knows that life happens regardless of deadlines, contracted or self-imposed. A year ago I hit the keyboard at the end of December with ACFW in September as my self-imposed deadline. Thankfully I didn’t know the hurdles I’d have to leap to arrive the the finish line, or I may not have tried. Thankfully, God knew better.

Little did I know my day job would test my new revelation that I am bi-vocational. Little did I know life would swirl around me like the outer bands of Hurricane Katrina, or I may not have tried. Thankfully, God knew better.

Every writer has a well-rehearsed list of real-life waves that sabotage word count, goals, edits, and plotting. I was well acquainted with the pitfalls of Twitter, Facebook, and my favorite procrastination tool, Pinterest. For others it’s childcare, homework, housework–the list is long. I’d hit mid point of 50K when the waves mounted and crashed. My day job work partner went on vacation in March, leaving the office in my care for two weeks. I was planning my youngest’s graduation. My husband was in the midst of a new job and we spent an April stay-cation wading through twenty years of classroom supplies stored in our garage between his classroom moves. In the midst of wading through college applications, taxes, FAFSA forms, college visits, and open house planning, my nurse and prayer warrior retired two weeks after receiving a bad diagnosis in May (she is currently well).

My critique partners knew I was floundering with my writing by July, when my work partner had major surgery and was out of the office for six weeks, turning my usual full-time weeks into forty-hour-plus work weeks. They prayed and kept to themselves their worry that I’d just quit writing and give up on ACFW. That’s when my mother became seriously ill. On the way from the office to the emergency room, I stopped at a long red light, and I felt the world swirling around me. But God’s whisper came as clear as it had for Elijah–“I’m not in the storm.” And I could breathe again. The light turned green.

Ed5_Fig4_1

My mother made a miraculous full recovery, and the weeks that followed brought four funerals of family members of my coworkers by August. ACFW was breathing down my neck and I questioned if I could do it. But as miraculous as my mother’s recovery, I put my heart on the keyboard and my measly 50K turned into 80K in six weeks.

I was pinching myself. I stood in the elevator shaking on the way to my room at ACFW with my dear friend and critique partner. I felt I’d finally been spit out of the swirling storm and come up for air. I didn’t even have a pitch, but I’d been given four pitch slots, the last with WordServe. I was sure I was an impostor. I wasn’t really a writer. It wasn’t really me who’d just poured those words on the page. Thankfully, God knew better.

Life happens. Life will happen again, with or without self-imposed or contracted deadlines. But what I’ll take with me this time is a toolkit to survive it. I will remember:

1. God knows better than me. He’s not in the storm. He is sovereign and so is His work.

2. Even though I’m a hybrid plotter-pantser, pre-planning saved me in the end.

3. Critique partners are a life-line for friendship, prayer, counsel, hand-holding, dope-slapping, and yes, last minute pitch preps!

4. Being bi-vocational means God will supply enough for each calling. I’m not betraying one calling to fulfill the other. Like a mother with multiple children, her lap is fuller, but she has enough love for all.

5. Knowing my story, believing in it, and loving it, kept me from giving up.

I offer my work back to my Maker. Thinking of the future publishing possibilities, I tremble with excitement and fear. But I know He’s not in the storm. I entrust He knows the future best.

Looking for Direction and Peace?

Photo/KarenJordan

Overwhelmed? Drifting above the landscape of your work like a hot air balloon?

Lost your sense of direction? Fear your approaching deadlines?

Searching for answers. When life seems overwhelming, it forces us to look for answers and direction. And it’s important to know where to seek help.

At times, I’m tempted to rely on guidance and encouragement from the resources the world offers me, like the evening news. Instead, it breeds confusion and discouragement, revealing more signs of the ultimate demise of our culture and way of life.

In Matthew 24, Jesus described signs of the end times. And His disciples asked, “Tell us … when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24: 3 NIV)

Jesus explained that He didn’t know when the end would come—only His Father knew the answer to that question (36). But He encouraged His disciples to always be ready (44).

How can we “be ready”? Most of the time, I can’t keep up with the pace of my life, much less worry about the future—especially the last days.

Jesus offered a story to encourage His disciples to focus on the things that matter most. He described a servant who had neglected his responsibilities during his master’s absence, as if he expected him never to return. But when the master returned, he held the servant responsible for his disobedience and disrespect.

Facing the truth. Once again, the mirror of God’s Word forces us to look at ourselves—not to shame us, but to confront us with the truth.

Am I living as if He’s not coming back? What responsibilities am I neglecting?

When I come to my senses and examine God’s Word, I’m reminded, “Instead, be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what he requires of you, and he will provide you with all these other things” (Matt. 6:33 GNT).

What does God require of me? Am I taking care of the things that He’s entrusted to me? My home? Spouse? Children? Relationships? Work? Gifts or talents?

As I examine this verse in The Message Bible, I find the specific direction I need.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. (Mt. 6:33-34 MSG).

Practicing our faith. How can I focus on God’s presence, guidance, and provision? Once again, I turn to God’s Word for help.

Jesus, help me to discern Your presence, guidance, and provision. What do I need to focus on right now? Give me the courage and strength to trust you with my future and to listen and obey Your Word. Amen.

What do you need to give your attention to right now? Where do you sense God’s presence, guidance, and provision in your life?

Cover Stories

Today is a big day.

I received an e-mail this morning from the head of marketing at the University of Nebraska Press … and attached was what should be the final version of the cover for my next book, Go, Flight! The Unsung Heroes of Mission Control. After what had become a little bit of an odyssey to determine an appropriate image, it looks marvelous. I love it.

If your manuscript is an unborn child in the womb, that first glimpse of the cover is similar to one of those amazing 3D sonograms that allows you to begin imagining what the youngster will look like. It’s a stunning moment and one that never, ever gets old. After all that time and expectation … this … is … getting … real.

Race To The Moon Sept 2009 006

Apollo 16 moonwalker Charlie Duke holds a copy of the cover for Footprints in the Dust, which features a photo of Duke during one of his explorations of the lunar surface. I contributed the lead chapter to the book.Fourteen years ago — not long after the birth of our twin sons, as a matter of fact — I got the cover and first color proof pages of my first book, Second to None: The History of the NASCAR Busch Series. It was a day neither I nor my wife, Jeanie, will ever forget.

Today’s e-mail brought back a lot of memories. Fourteen years ago — not longer after my twin sons were born, as a matter of fact — I received the cover and first proof pages for my first book, Second to None: The History of the NASCAR Busch Series. It was a day neither I nor my wife, Jeanie, will ever forget.

Jeanie is a district court judge here in North Carolina, and that particular week, the boys and I had tagged along to a conference she was attending. She had already left for that morning’s first session when the call from the front desk came.

Mr. Houston, a package just arrived for you if you’d like to come get it.

I knew exactly what it contained. I had not showered or shaved yet. The boys were just beginning to stir and had … well … very, very full diapers. I didn’t care. I pulled on a pair of ratty shorts and threw the kids into their monstrous side-by-side stroller. We must’ve made for quite the pitiful sight, but off we went nevertheless.

To get to the lobby, we had to go down a long hallway with large banquet rooms on either side. We made it to the front desk without being seen and tried to sneak back down the hallway to return to the safety and anonymity of our room.

We weren’t as lucky the second time.

At that exact moment, Jeanie’s conference took a break. Out of the rooms streamed every district court judge in the state of North Carolina. There I stood in the T-shirt I’d slept in, gym shorts, unshaven and sporting hair that might or might not have been combed, with boys whose diapers were already stinky … and getting stinkier by the second.

Oh … hey, Honey.

Jeanie forgave me. I had my cover and my color proofs. They were beautiful. So were Jeanie and the boys, dirty diapers and all. This is my most memorable cover story. What’s yours? If this is your first book, what are your expectations for the cover?

Five Possible Reasons Why I Didn’t Endorse Your Novel

This title could also be used for a few other things. Why I didn’t influence for your novel. Why I didn’t review your novel. I’m going to go from the most important reason to the least.

Writing1I think it’s helpful to give actual reasons for this. When I first started in publishing, I felt sad and perhaps a little rejected when someone didn’t review my work or fulfill a promise they made. Now that I have 1 1/2 feet in the publishing industry (I’m one of those authors still working a “real” job on the side) I have a lot more insight into why people may opt out of my request.

#1: Time. This is definitely the number one influencer on whether or not I do any of the things listed above. It’s a reality for most authors that they are working a “real” job to support their family. It is an expectation of publishers that you build a platform, build a social media presence, and market your novel. That’s a learning curve for most so our “extra time” is spent working on learning, doing and perfecting these things. Reading for fun and helping other author’s promote their work falls to the bottom of the time consumption list. In reality, if an author did take the time to do any of these things for you, they gave up something else to do it. Be grateful . . . always.

#2: I didn’t like it. Reading is art and art is subjective. I’ve read novels by people I really liked but I didn’t love their work. If I’m good friends with them, I’ll probably provide an explanation. We as writers need to learn to emotionally separate what we put on the page from a personal attack against our person. Just because I didn’t like your book doesn’t mean I don’t like you. Also, this doesn’t hold true for all the author’s work. A good friend of mine chose not to endorse the first book of my trilogy. She kindly reviewed the subsequent books and gave glowing endorsements. If I don’t say anything to you, it’s likely because I think you can’t take criticism in a healthy way and I don’t want to deal with the fall out.

#3: The book went against my platform. This is different than #2. There are some books I’ve liked, but I couldn’t support because of the platform I’ve built– which is medical accuracy in fiction. My blog, Redwood’s Medical Edge, deals with how to write medically accurate novels. If your book has something entirely medically inaccurate, even if I love the story, I can’t endorse it. It would make me look foolish. It would be like a pro-life person endorsing a pro-choice book. In this instance, it doesn’t mean I won’t review it or even influence for it but I’ll generally comment on the medical details falling short in those cases.

#4: You sent me the book without asking. This drops you to the bottom of the list pretty quickly. If I get a book in the mail and didn’t accept a request to review it, I’ll likely not get to it. Often, it’s not something I would read anyway and I’m very picky about what I read because my “fun” reading time has been drastically cut short.

#5: The first five pages didn’t engage me.  There are plenty of books I start that are good in the beginning but leave me feeling ambivalent in the end but I do end up finishing them. However, if you don’t grab me in the first five pages, I don’t have time to get through the rest. I was recently asked to review a book that was published by a smaller press and the novel was edited (because the author credits two editors in the front of the novel) but the novel was difficult to read. Meandering, no conflict, no idea where the story was headed.

If you’re a published author (indie or traditional)– what are some reasons you’ve chosen not to read, review, influence or endorse a book?

The Making of a Masterpiece

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” Michelangelo

I’ve spent the past month living as a hermit while I finished a manuscript. (Insert sigh of relief here.) I spent countless hours after my day job writing and fine-tuning every detail. Some days, I couldn’t wait to share the story with the world. Other days? All I saw were flaws, flaws that sent me running to fast food and the newest Netflix series while I processed what to do next.

That’s one of the many fun aspects of writing, though, isn’t it? I’m making the manuscript, but in the process, the Lord is making me. As my character wrestles through a growth point, I wrestle with it, too. Often what my character is learning is a lesson the Lord has spent months instilling in my own heart. From the overflow of my heart to the page…I think the story of The David illustrates this perfectly.

In the late 1400s, a group called the Operai provided blocks of marble for several prominent sculptors and artisans to create twelve statues of characters from the Old Testament. Work began on The David in 1464 but after initial carving, the piece was abandoned to the elements for twenty-five years. Then Michelangelo begged the Operai to allow him to complete The David. For three years, he carved the statue, shaving away the damaged parts and shaping features in great detail.

Kariss Lynch creating a writing masterpiece

If you hate history, I hope you stuck with me because none of that is the reason I love The David statue. Michelangelo took a wrecked, abandoned piece of marble and he turned it into a MASTERPIECE. Where everyone else saw a useless block, he saw potential and beauty, a story waiting to unfold.

I think the writing process is a lot like this. A story idea with little initial substance becomes a piece of art with a lot of effort. Over time, the author chips away the unnecessary and ugly pieces until a beautiful story is left.

I believe that’s what Jesus does with the author as he/she writes. Just as Michelangelo labored over The David and you labor over your manuscript, so the Lord labors over you, writer friend. He is in the process of creating a masterpiece that lasts for eternity, and he wants to do that with your writing, too.

Yours is a message of truth and hope. As you identify impurities and polish your writing to perfection, know the Lord wants to do that with you. He wants your voice for his glory. Sometimes the polishing and chipping are painful. With every bit you allow him to remove, you enable him to speak more clearly through you.

Keep chipping away at that novel while the Lord chips away at the excess around your heart. The beauty becomes more evident with every fallen piece.