A Library Located in a Village of Stilted Houses by the Sea

library-story

I loved going to the library as a girl. In the summer, after chores were done, we would go to town once a week, a trip that included a stop at the library.

I would always get the allowed quota–four books. 

At home I would sit in the tire swing under the elm tree and escape to faraway places in the pages.

I never imagined in the shadow of cornfields, alfalfa, and soy beans, that one day I would travel to a library in a village of stilted houses by the sea:

Our driver parked the van at the curve of a road on the mainland, near a dirt entrance across the bay to a smaller village of sea gypsies, the gypsy part of the name being a misnomer because they don’t move from place to place. They live there, a few hundred yards from the mainland in their simple stilted homes, because the lore of their people states that if they would leave, their skin would become diseased; they would grow sick and die.

sea library 1

“Where’s the library?” we asked our host as we passed a group of boys listening to a boombox, while laundry dried outside a simple house with a satellite dish in the backyard. As part of a literacy program we had been invited to check out the library in this small fishing village in Indonesia.

sea library 7

Our host pointed in the distance, to a destination I could not see, because all I saw in front of me was a series of rough wooden planks, nailed together in a single, rickety path above the water.

Walking the plank suddenly had an entirely new meaning as the boards weaved side to side as I shuffled across one and then another. I peered at the water six feet below as it flowed back and forth with the current. What happens when cell phones get wet? I wondered, as I took step after cautious step, on planks number three, four and five.

What happens when library visitors get wet?

My husband comes across

I was thankful for the years I spent as a child balancing on railroad tracks as I imagined being a tightrope walker on my way to our no-boys-allowed fort in a culvert under the tracks, never imagining I would need those high-wire skills four decades later.

Eventually all six of us made it across, some uttering not-very-silent prayers for God’s deliverance.

When we arrived at the library in the village school, we discovered the building was closed. School testing happened that week and the kids had a half day, an education reality that is common around the world. We stood around in the 85-degree heat with 90% humidity. The circle of sweat on my cotton t-shirt widened exponentially with each ticking minute.

“We can come into this home,” our host said, motioning us into a blue house with a corrugated metal roof across from the school.

sea library 4

“Have a seat, have a seat.” The woman and homeowner directed me to a far corner. Our group of six and a dozen children trooped in behind. Candies and other snacks hung down from the ceiling. The home was also a store.

We were invited to tell a story while the woman served crackers and bottled water. My husband told a tale of another stilted house with a boy, his noisy sisters, and their cows. It was a story about gratitude. Our interpreter echoed my husband’s hand motions and side effects, adding a few of his own, while the children listened, entranced.

The homeowner smiled as the children sang a song, moving with the tempo. More children arrived on the front porch, but there was no more room inside. 

In our culture, I hear arguments about the relevance of libraries in a digital world, but those debates were silenced for me in a stilted village where children pressed against the metal screen covering the front window in hopes of getting closer to the words, while the sea and the people swayed.

Do you have a library story?

Lynne Hartke’s first book: Under a Desert Sky: Redefining Hope, Beauty and Faith in the Hardest Places is coming out with Revell/Baker in May 2017. She blogs at http://www.lynnehartke.com.

How to survive the book review blues

roses I have a love-hate relationship with book reviews.

Every time I get a good review, I’m happy. When I get a stellar review, I’m ecstatic. I feel like I’ve done what I hoped to do: I’ve connected with a reader and given them a journey they wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. When dog-lovers tell me they laughed, cried, and were inspired by my memoir Saved by Gracie: How a rough-and-tumble rescue dog dragged me back to health, happiness, and God, I feel blessed that my story reached and touched them. When reviewers rave that my supernatural thriller Heaven’s Gate: Archangels Book I made them want to stand up and cheer, I get goosebumps of joy.

All those multi-starred reviews on my books’ pages at amazon.com, Goodreads, or barnesandnoble.com reassure me that the hours I pour into my writing are worth it: my books entertain, educate, and illuminate, and, gosh darn, people like them.

wilted-roseAnd then there is the flip side of my love-hate relationship with book reviews.

When I get a review that says “this book wasn’t what I thought it would be about, so I stopped reading it after the first two chapters,” and therefore receives the lowest rating possible, I want to bang my head against a wall. “Then why did you bother to post a review?” I want to ask the disappointed reader, and then explain that because she mistook the book for something it wasn’t, my overall rating has plummeted, which will dissuade some readers from even reading the synopsis, let alone buying and reading the whole book.

I’ve also seen reviews that rate books poorly because the author’s basic premise contradicts what a particular reader-reviewer believes. Again, those low ratings may prevent the book from reaching the hands of readers who would appreciate and greatly benefit from it; because many people (and I’m one of them!) choose books based on others’ reviews, authors are at the mercy of those published reviews, even when they make no sense at all, or are based on the personal bias of the reviewer.

So what’s an author to do about that oh-so-necessary-but-can-be-disastrous need for reviews?

My answer can be summed up in one word: relax.

Then remind yourself of these three things:

  1. You wrote a book! So many people say they want to write a book, but you actually did it! AND it got published. Congratulations! Celebrate your accomplishment!
  2. You can’t please all the people all the time, and that’s especially true of readers. Some people just won’t ‘get’ it; others won’t like your writing style or your treatment of plot or subject. Some readers might be experiencing difficult life situations while they were reading your book and some of that negativity gets transferred to their reviewing. Bottom line: reviews are subjective, even when they intend to be objective.
  3. Your words will reach at least some of the people who need to read them, and they will bless you for it, whether or not you ever know it.

What do you do when you get the review blues?

How to Write a Book in 3 Months

The following post comes from WordServe author Cassandra Soars. 

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The first book I wrote (Love Like Fire: The Story of Heidi Baker) was a ten-year process, from the day I started my research to the day it was published in April 2016. But I’ve recently discovered that writing a book doesn’t have to take that long. When a filmmaker hired me to write a book for him, I discovered some helpful tips for writing a book in draft-form in three months.

  1. Write what you know. If your project involves a lot of research, do your research first, then put it away. There will always be more to learn, and you will never feel like an expert. At some point, you need to put away the research and write from what you have learned and what you do know. Writing what you know is always easier than writing what you don’t know.
  1. Don’t try to write and edit at the same time. I have one friend who constantly studies plot and form while she’s writing, and needless to say, her process takes much longer and is much more complicated since she’s always analyzing and second-guessing her first draft. I’ve found that writing and editing are two completely different processes that use different parts of the brain, and it’s best to keep them separate. If you try to edit while you’re writing that first draft, your process will take much longer.
  1. Don’t be afraid of a bad first draft. A first draft is not going to be your best work. It probably won’t even be good. Don’t worry. Give yourself the freedom and permission to get the story down on the page, no matter how bad you think it is. After you have an entire first draft, then you can start editing. This is where you can make it shine.
  1. Give yourself deadlines. If you want to write a book in three months, give yourself a daily word count. For a longer book of around 90,000 words, set yourself a daily goal of writing 1500 words a day, 5 days a week. This will give you 30,000 words a month, and within 3 months, you’ll have written your book. For a shorter book of 60,000 words, your daily deadline is a word count of 1,000 words a day, 5 days a week.
  1. Be consistent. You don’t need to wait until inspiration strikes. If you make it a routine to sit down at your desk daily, even it’s only for an hour, you will find that there is always something that you will feel like writing about. Go with that—and give yourself permission to not follow your writing outline. Write about what you can connect with emotionally that day. Your emotion is transferred through your writing; if you feel it, so will your reader.

The best writing advice I ever got was from a college writing professor who told me that he writes a book by writing one chapter at a time. He showed me his file folders, individually marked by chapters. When he finishes writing one chapter, he puts it away in a file folder, and then starts the next chapter. Take it a chapter at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking about the entire book at once.

cassandrasoars-201x300Cassandra Soars has published various national magazine articles on a wide range of topics, including life in Mozambique, Africa, where she lived for five years. She has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh. She also earned a master’s degree in international development from the University of London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies. Cassandra and her husband Steve recently founded a social media site for couples called iheartus.com.

WordServe News: November 2016

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary this month!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ recently released books along with a recap of WordServe client news.

New Releases

overachieving-your-platform-coverThe second book in the Best of the WordServe Water Cooler series released this month! Overachieving Your Platform: 95 Ideas to Embrace Your Inner Sales Marketing Genius offers advice on how to break out and build a platform that really works–with proven advice from more than 30 WordServe authors. This is one no author can afford to miss!

51iimzzhitl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Debora Coty released the Too Blessed to Be Stressed 5-Year Journal with Barbour. Overflowing with encouragement, inspiration, scripture selections, and humor just for your beautiful heart, this journal offers a special place to record your innermost thoughts and feelings, life’s lovely blessings, and anything else that might be on your mind.

51yps1r2krl-_sx337_bo1204203200_Cyndy Feasel, with Mike Yorkey, released After the Cheering Stops with Thomas Nelson. Cyndy, wife of the former NFL player Grant Feasel, tells the tragic story of her family’s journey into chaos and darkness resulting from the damage her husband suffered due to football-related concussions and head trauma—and the faith that saved her.

61prwmw9bul-_sx385_bo1204203200_April Knight released ScriptureDoodle: God’s Promises with David C. Cook. This six-week devotional experience refreshes believers who are feeling burned out or stuck in a rut in their relationship with God. Each of the creative worship prompts in the interactive guide includes biblical encouragement and ideas for worship through art.

51uak9vgbsl-_sx373_bo1204203200_Donald Stratton and Ken Gire released All the Gallant Men with William Morrow. The first memoir by a USS Arizona survivor, this is a gripping and intimate account of Donald Stratton’s experience at Pearl Harbor, where a million pounds of explosives were donated beneath his battle station aboard the Arizona; his year-long recovery from burns to most of his body; and his re-enlistment with the Navy to serve in several additional naval battles.

New Contracts 

Craig Chapman signed with Regnery Publishing for his book, Battle Hardened, the story of his father’s combat journey across Europe from D-Day to VE Day.

New Clients

Kevin Keating and Bonnie Kristian signed with WordServe Literary this month.

The Joy of Writing

I’m not sure what surprised me first — the fact that my business coaching client turned non-writing friend answered the question intended for me, or how he responded.

Lake Superior Anita Brooks Photographer

Anita Brooks’ Lake Superior Reflection

From the dining room table, I glanced through the picture window at the full moon reflecting over Lake Superior in the distance. After finishing three days of intensive review with the four partners of my latest business coaching project, the mood was relaxed, while the five of us savored plates piled with steak and king crab. It was in this moment of celebration when one of my coaching clients leaned forward and asked me, “Do you enjoy writing?”

My mouth opened, but his partner’s voice sounded before I had the chance to speak. “Not anymore, now that you have to work at it. It’s different when it becomes your profession.” A sheepish blush crept across his rounded cheeks. “At least, that’s what I imagine.”

An awkward pause followed his interjection, but I didn’t allow it to languish long. I smiled to let him know we were okay — after all, I’ve made the mistake of answering for others.

Then I turned my attention to my other client. “Actually, it is different now that I write professionally, but I still enjoy it very much. I’d be lying if I said every minute felt good, but it’s like any difficult thing we accomplish. There are times I think about walking away, when things aren’t going smoothly, when I get bored, when I feel overwhelmed, when I despise the way my words come out on a page, and when I think about the investment cost of time, energy, and money. But the negative emotions don’t last. I can’t imagine doing anything else. A soul-deep, intrinsic drive pushes me to write, I’m compelled to do this, despite my finicky feelings. And reader responses make it all worth while.”

Intrigue was obvious on my client’s face. “So people actually contact you?”

I chuckled, but it echoed off as my thoughts turned to some of the specific readers I’ve heard from. I could feel a hot glistening around the edges of my eyes as I began to answer. “It has surprised me at how many people have emailed and sent private social media messages. Nothing compares to the power of knowing words you penned touched another human being.”

“What’s the best thing a reader has told you?”

Anita Brooks Plane Wing in Flight

Writing and Reading Are Uplifting Experiences

I dipped a piece of crab in melted butter and slipped it in my mouth before answering. “Probably not what you think. A lady emailed to tell me she bought a copy of Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over in an airport on the east coast. She started reading on the plane, and said it hit some tender spots, so she closed it and vowed not to finish. But when she got home, she said, “That book kept calling my name.” That’s when she picked it up and began reading again.

In her email she said, “PLEASE forgive me, but a couple more chapters in I threw your book across the room, but only for a few minutes, because I couldn’t help myself, and had to go get it. I just finished reading the entire thing for the third time. THANK you! Your book saved my life.”

As I heard myself telling this story to my clients, I realized something afresh.

Goodreads Review Getting ThroughYes, the writing is hard at times. There is no doubt my emotions can lead me temporarily astray. However, as a professional author, I DO still enjoy writing as well as having written — because I understand the impact my words can make.

The greatest joy of writing comes from knowing I was made to do this, and that others are helped because I act despite my fears and insecurities. Many think, dream, and fantasize about writing books, but there is no greater joy than realizing I am an honored member of the club that says, “I did.”

Have you discovered the joy in writing?

Writing for a Superlative Culture

We are an -est society.

Happiest. Saddest. Loneliest. Hardest.

I recently returned from a trip overseas and I was asked, by various people:

“What was your hardest time?” “Give me your happiest vacation memory.”

I had to stop and ponder.

Was the happiest moment when my husband captured a photo of a monkey trying to find another banana under my hat? Was it scuba diving in the waters of Nirwana Beach off the coast of Indonesia? Or climbing the slopes of Mt. Batur for the sunrise and being served tea heated in the steam vents from this still-active volcano?

Monkey Forest

Was the hardest moment going days and days on limited sleep as my body refused to adjust to the fourteen-hour time difference? Or when a person on our team was diagnosed with dengue fever? Or the humbling moment when I realized our young guide didn’t read or write?

I found myself in a quandary as I sifted through my mind to try to come up with the -est story. Not sure if the tale I was contemplating qualified for the perimeters or was just an average, good story, I found myself silent.

We live in a culture of superlatives. Highest. Lowest. Hottest. Fastest.

Yet, as writers, the challenge remains to take what has been written a thousand times before and make it fresh. To take the mundane and ordinary and breathe new life into the sentences. To find a new way to write about a sunrise. Or washing the dishes. Or camping out under the stars.  Skill is necessary to take the images and everyday events and draw the reader into deeper emotions. To tell again the story of love. Of grief. Of redemption. Of faith.

I have lived for over thirty years in Arizona. Same house. Same church. Same husband. 

Same desert.

I have hiked the trails surrounding Phoenix and beyond. This permanence allows me to write from a deep sense of place, yet I am still discovering new things in this desert home.

Earlier this summer I was working on a piece about palo verde trees and needed a photo. The palo verde tree has green bark with each twig terminating in a thorn. The palo verde lives up to its Spanish translation of “green stick,” as the tree tosses aside all its leaves during times of drought. The tree sprouts tiny leaves after rain, but can perform photosynthesis through its green bark, even when leaves are absent.

I needed a photo of the tree after rain. I didn’t have one. Thirty years of hiking in the desert and I didn’t have a photo of a palo verde, one of the most common trees in our area. I had sunsets. Sunrises. Mountain peaks. Cactus. Wildflowers in abundance.

I had photos of the driest. The tallest. The orangest (this should be a word).  But not one picture of the ordinary palo verde with its amazing green bark. (A fact I remedied the next day.)

trunk of a palo verde tree

Thoreau once said that because he could not afford to travel, he was “Made to study and love this spot of earth more and more.” 

Ah, this is our challenge. As our readers settle into the pages, can we–through our words–make them love and study the spot we describe more and more? This story of reunion? This story of loss? This story of returning to God? 

This story of the ordinary and mundane? A story that has nothing to do with volcanoes or monkeys or strange tropical diseases.

A simple story of a tree that sprouts tiny leaves after the rain.

palo verde after rain

palo verde after rain

Lynne Hartke writes stories of courage, beauty and belonging at www.lynnehartke.com. Her first book about the faithfulness of God in the hardest places is coming out with Revell in 2017. She lives in Chandler, Arizona in the Sonoran Desert with her husband, Kevin. Their 4 grown children and 3 grandchildren live nearby.

Pitching an agent? Read these query letter tips…

student-849825_960_720In my work at WordServe, I read a lot of query letters and book proposals (sometimes more than 100 in a week!) that come into our agency. And in my work as a freelance editor, I often help clients develop their proposals and queries before they submit them. After reading hundreds of pitches across every conceivable genre and topic, I’ve come to notice a few significant Do’s and Don’ts that can make or break whether an agent is going to read any further. If you’re newer to the world of publishing and hoping to get your book noticed, perhaps a few of these will be helpful to you the next time you’re putting together your pitch to an agent or editor.

When sending a query to a literary agency…

  1. Don’t claim that your book is going to be a huge bestseller. The fact of the matter is that only a teeny, tiny percentage of books end up at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list—and much of it depends on things outside of an author’s control. If you claim that you’ve written the next Harry Potter, the agent reading your pitch is probably going to assume that you don’t understand the publishing industry very well; have unrealistic expectations; and/or haven’t done your homework. A better way to emphasize your book’s potential is to try something a little less grand that focuses instead on who is realistically going to buy your book: “I’ve written a book about women in the workplace that will resonate with young working mothers across the country.”
  2. Do your homework on the agents and agency you’re submitting to. If you can find out the name of a specific agent at the firm who represents books in your genre, send the proposal to their attention. Mention why you’ve chosen them. Perhaps comment on another author they’ve represented whose work has similarities to your own. If you can’t submit the proposal to a specific agent, send it to the general agency, but make sure you’ve read up on what kinds of books the agency represents. WordServe represents primarily faith-based books; when I get submissions for romance books with risqué content or nonfiction books that argue against our values, I delete without reading any further.
  3. Don’t claim that your book will make a great feature film. Even fewer books end up as movies than end up on the bestseller list (see #1, above) – and agents who see this in your pitch will know your expectations are overblown and be far less likely to work with you.
  4. Do write your pitch in polished prose that reflects your writing style. You’ve got 30 seconds to get an agent’s attention, so represent your writing well. If your book is humorous, inject some levity in your query. If it’s a thriller, create tension with your first line. If it’s literary fiction, elegant sentences that mirror the book’s style are a must. In every circumstance, ensure that there are absolutely no typos; this is your first impression, and it needs to be 100 percent perfect. Seriously: a few typos in a pitch letter is enough to get an immediate rejection.
  5. Do highlight why you are the right person to write this book; but don’t claim that nothing like this has ever been done before. Chances are, it has—and the agent has already seen it. Instead, focus on what sets your project apart, what new angle or new research or new understanding you bring to a topic—and why you’re the best person to tell readers about it. Focusing on your prior experience, personal connection to the topic, research you’ve conducted, or a dedicated audience you’ve built up are all great ways to convince an agent that you’re worth taking a chance on—and that doesn’t require the claim that no one else has ever thought of anything like this. It just requires you to show me why you’re the best person for the job.
  6. Do read the requirements for submission for every agency you send to. Different agencies have different submission requirements, and it’s essential that you provide them with exactly what they want—or your query will likely be deleted without even being read. If an agent doesn’t want attachments, make sure you include everything in the body of the email. Do they want to see five pages of sample material or fifty—or none at all? Do you need to include a full proposal, or just send a query and wait for a response? Following the specific instructions for each agency, while tedious, will result in a much better response rate, as agents will see that you’ve done your research, are taking this process seriously, and have respect for an agent’s time and wishes.
  7. Last, but not least, do show courtesy and respect to the agents you’re submitting to. Thank them for their time (they really are busy), and don’t pester them if you don’t hear back immediately. While it’s appropriate to follow up with an agent if you don’t hear from them within the time frame they list on their website, do not write to them before this window has elapsed. If they say that they aren’t able to respond to every query, accept that you simply may not hear back. With so many queries coming in, agents aren’t always able to give a personal response to each project they see. It’s unfortunate, but a reality of the industry. And finally, if you do receive a rejection, don’t pester an agent to explain themselves or try to argue for reconsideration. Graciously accept the response, and move on. There are many good agents out there, and you want to find one who connects with your work and is excited to partner with you.

Pitching agents is a difficult process—trust me, I get it! But by spending time polishing your query and making sure to send it to just the right places, you’ll increase your chance of finding the perfect person to represent your work. Above all, don’t be discouraged! It takes time, and often lots of rejections, before you find the right agent—but it does happen. For the most part, agents are in this business because we love books as much as you do; and we’re always hoping that the next query letter we open is going to be the perfect one for us.