Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lesson I Learned from a Turkey

Copyright © 2004 Eileen Rife

I stood before a freezer full of turkeys at the grocery store. Scavenging through the assortment of Butterballs, I spotted a particularly plump fellow resting in the back of the unit. Since I was hosting around 12 guests for Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted at least a 15 pound foul to feed my crew. Greedy for that bird and in a hurry to get out of the store and on to the next errand, I fumbled through the front line of turkeys to reach the back. As I did, one of the smaller, yet equally solid birds in the front, slid from its resting place and landed squarely on my left foot. An immediate dance ensued to the tune of “Turkey on the Toe.” My little Rumpelstiltskin tirade got me nowhere. Busy, self-absorbed shoppers passed me right and left. Suddenly, I began to feel sorry for myself and very much alone. Even a little sick at my stomach.

Collecting myself, I threw the sorry turkey back into its stall and hobbled into the next aisle, telling myself I would shop for a turkey later. Rubbing my stinging toes, I reprimanded myself for being so greedy for that particular bird. In my pain, I slowed down and began to reflect on the previous days. As I pondered the richness of my life, I began to feel less hurried, less greedy for big bird in his frozen cage. I thought about what was really important to me. As I did, the Holy Spirit filled my mind with verses from Psalm 128 that I had learned years earlier.

How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine, (and so I had –parenthesis mine)
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants (indeed they were – parenthesis mine)
Around your table.

Greed turned to gratitude as I thought about my family. How God had blessed us because we revered Him above all! Our precious “olive plants” were now grown and pursuing God’s direction for their lives. Our oldest daughter, Rachel, was on her way to India, fulfilling a ten-year dream of becoming a career missionary. I thought about our second daughter, Michelle, who in a few short weeks would graduate from college with a degree in biblical counseling and marry a youth minister in the coming months. Together, she and Jonathan would serve the Lord in a new church plant in Pennsylvania. And then my mind drifted to my precious last-born, Stephanie, a senior in high school, who was earnestly seeking God’s will for the coming year.

And my heart was full. Overflowing, in fact. I was so grateful that my husband, Chuck, and I could have the privilege and responsibility of rearing three godly daughters with God’s grace and wisdom. We had drilled into them over their growing years that to glorify God in body, soul, and mind was their chief end. At each graduation we left them with the scriptural charge, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth”(3 John 4).

In that moment, as shopping carts careened around me, I inwardly breathed a thank-you prayer to my Father for 20 years of home schooling my girls and 28 years of marriage to a godly, compassionate man. Somehow, in that inner moment, the size turkey I served on Thanksgiving Day seemed trivial in light of the many blessings God had just brought to my mind. 

Funny how God can use even a frozen turkey on a harried lady to quiet her heart, regain her perspective, and teach her a lesson about gratitude.
That article was written ten years ago. Today, all three of my married daughters are serving the Lord around the world in full-time missions. We now enjoy seven precious grandchildren, ages eight to four months, around our table. And Chuck and I have been married 38 years. My family has provided much fodder for my books, especially the passions behind my fiction works. Check them out at my Amazon author page for a Christmas gift!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Write a Review, Win a Book!

 Calling all Rife Readers!

Friday typically marks the beginning of the holiday season. The aroma of spiced cider. Pumpkins gracing doors. Cinnamon filling the air. Thoughts of parties and gift giving. 

With that in mind, you may want to consider the reader on your gift list!

Now through the end of November, I'm gifting a FREE hard copy of one of my books to two individuals. You choose the book you want.

All you need to do is go to Amazon and write a review on one of my books you have read, then leave a comment below to let me know you did that.

Winner announced November 30.

Thanks for helping me spread the word through your review. Whether good or bad, reviews help writers. So I appreciate any feedback you can provide on books you have read. The link to my Author Page is provided below. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

I Met a Man Today

I met a man today. “Mam, could you spare fifty cents?” I hurried on to my car, somewhat angry that he had seen the ten dollar bill I was holding as I exited the dry cleaning store. As I slammed the car door, I looked behind me and the scraggly, stooped over man was nowhere to be seen.

Could it have been Jesus? An angel? How could the skinny man have disappeared so quickly?

I immediately felt remorse. No matter that as a woman alone in a parking lot I probably shouldn’t stop and talk with a strange man. No matter that he might have assaulted me, grabbed my purse while I rummaged through it, or abducted me. No amount of rationalization would comfort my tormented thoughts as I pulled out of the parking lot and drove down the road.

Tears formed in my eyes and crept down my cheeks. “I’m sorry, Jesus. Was that You? Was that a divine appointment for my day? What would You have done? Were You hungry and I refused to feed you, simply muttering, ‘No Sir’, and hurrying on my way? Please forgive me. I was angry, afraid.”

I met a man today then simply went on my way. But I will always wonder.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Choosing Point of View and Verb Tense for Your Story

            Probably one of the most basic constructs of any story is point of view, yet many novice writers find the concept confusing. Do I write in first person, third person, or can I use an omniscient point of view? Do I use past or present tense?
            The answer largely has to do with the type of effect your plot requires.
First Person/Present
If you want to create a sense of immediacy, employ present tense with either first or third person. In my novel, Second Chance, I use first person, present tense since the story seemed to dictate this approach. Whenever I tried to go back and write it in third person, past tense (the most popular, by the way), the story didn’t carry the punch I desired.  Since the story line involves an empty nest mom grieving the departure of her last child from home and her process of getting on with life/investing in her marriage, first person/present puts the reader squarely into Mave’s shoes, experiencing her journey with her as the story unfolds. Notice the following sample from Second Chance.
Good grief! A silly tree on a bathmat makes me cry.
            I laugh through my tears as Jerry stumbles into the bathroom, nearly tripping over me on the way to the toilet. “What in the world are you doing on the floor, Mave?”
            “Picking lint off the mat?” I contort my face, hoping he’ll believe me, but I don’t sound very confident. Lint-picking is certainly something he could relate to. Jerry’s so particular that he lines up his shoes every night before climbing into bed. The only thing he isn’t particular about is our marriage.
            “Can’t you do it some place else?” He steps around me.
            Keeping up my fa├žade, I sweep the mat from underneath his feet and stomp to the bedroom. I hug the rug to my chest and indulge a few more tears as Jerry turns on the shower. Strains of “Singin’ in the Rain” echo from the stall. I half expect to see him hop out of the shower with umbrella in hand and dance about the room like Gene Kelly.
            Notice how the first person, present approach almost slows the reading, placing you smack dab into Mave’s predicament. You begin to feel her pain with her, perhaps in a deeper way than third person/past could achieve.
Third Person/Past
            By far, the most popular choice in current fiction writing is third person/past. This works particularly well with romance novels where the writer uses a hero and heroine, bouncing back and forth between their points of view. Notice the following sample from my novel, Laughing with Lily.
Regret barged into the bedroom and refused to leave. Like one of the boxes Celeste had carried from their trailer to their new house, a dark secret weighed heavy on her heart, especially in the last year.
She surveyed the pile of cartons beside the bed and located the one marked “Framed Pictures.” Tearing away the tissue paper, she smoothed her hand over the cool glass surface lodged inside the pewter frame, corners adorned with inlaid sapphires. A bride and groom smiled back at her. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Tatem.
In spite of her dismal mood, she was determined to enjoy her anniversary.
The heady aroma of English Leather entered the bedroom as she studied the portrait. She spun around and faced her husband. A silly grin ruffled his lips. She smiled and melted into Joe’s arms. She reached up and pressed her index finger into the dimple in his chin.
“Okay, you can come out now.” His voice teased her. “But first, put this on.” He gently turned her around and tied a bandanna over her eyes.
Counter to my experience with Second Chance, when I tried to write Laughing with Lily in first person, present, it simply didn’t work. The plot seemed to demand a third person/past approach, perhaps due to Celeste’s past pain, the regret she harbored. I wanted to accentuate the past in the reader’s mind to help her/him enter into Celeste’s grief and battle to let go.
            Many beginning writers, myself included, naturally fall into the trap of writing in the omniscient point of view in which the reader can enter into the thoughts and feelings of all the characters at once. While this used to be a popular point of view in the nineteenth century, it is not so much so today. Readers enjoy and appreciate entering the mind and experience of ONE character per scene. Only what the point of view character can see, feel, taste, touch, hear, and think is presented. This helps the reader really get to know and identify with one to three central characters in the story.
            This was difficult for me to achieve in my early years of fiction writing. Since I had written dramas, I saw my scenes as displayed on a stage, witnessing much of what an audience would, knowing what each character is doing, saying, thinking. Over time, with practice and mentoring, I learned to confine my scene to one character’s perception.

What point of view/verb tense feels the most natural to you? What form do you enjoy reading?
            Share with my readers for a chance to win a print copy of Chosen Ones

A couple in crisis.
A child taken captive.
When their worlds intersect, each of them will receive a special gift, but will they find it in their hearts to accept an outcome so different from what they expected and hoped for?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Breaking Into the Magazine Market

            You’ve always dreamed of being a writer but wondered where to begin. Many aspiring writers immediately think, Book! I’ll write a book.
            However, this is not typically the best move. Better to build a consistent byline in periodicals than leap headlong into the audacious task of crafting a book. When you’ve carved out a name for yourself and learned how to query and format various types of articles, you will be in much better shape to write a book.
          So, where do you start when writing for magazines?
            First of all, you need to garner ideas. If you’ve never kept a journal, now’s the time to start. I began journaling in college as a way to process my spiritual growth. But it morphed into so much more as I chronicled thoughts/feelings on my day and significant milestones in my life, such as my wedding day and births of my daughters. How many articles I’ve crafted from these seed gems, I can’t tell you. Journaling is not only therapeutic but can provide a wealth of article and story ideas, even years after you’ve jotted down your thoughts. 
            Another helpful exercise is taking a sheet of paper then drawing several columns down the page. You might list hobbies, interests, jobs, church family, family of origin, volunteer work, pets, or any number of categories to get you started. Under each section, write down ideas that come to mind. You might enjoy dabbling around with photography which could lead to an interesting article on the subject. You may have experienced something life-changing in your local church which could be fodder for an inspirational article.
            Once you gather ideas, you will want to research the magazine market. A host of periodicals await your perusal, from Christian living and self-help to travel and home-making. Depending on the magazine, you may read adventure, seasonal, devotional, humorous, and persuasive articles. Personality profiles on famous figures may also be represented. Web copy is a huge market as all those Google searches need a writer fueling the content. And don’t forget filler material. There is a wealth of possibility when it comes to one sheets included with Sunday school curriculum, sub-departments in magazines that run short articles of 150 – 300 words, or jokes in periodicals like Reader’s Digest. One quip can bring in $300. I remember writing for Discipleship Journal, routinely drawing $150 per short piece/book review. Such work breeds easy money while building experience and a byline.
            This is also the time to purchase a copy of the Writer’s Market Guide for the mainstream market and the Christian Writers’ Guide for the Christian market. I bought a copy online for $17. Well worth the investment. Actually, this guide helped me break in. The book covers everything imaginable you’d want to know about writing for magazines, as well as books, contests, writers groups, agents, classes, and more. You learn what each editor is looking for, how many times a magazine is published, desired word count and topics, the contact info, helpful tips for breaking in, and the payment terms. The guide is updated annually.
            After you have an idea of what you want to write about and you’ve studied the market, it’s time to delve into the writing process. Start by studying the magazine(s) you’d like to target. Often, you can receive a complimentary copy or you can peruse articles online in a free database. Whichever way you go, make sure you study two or three back issues, from cover to cover. This is important for several reasons. First of all, you want to learn what readers are interested in. Secondly, you want to learn what the magazine has recently covered so you don’t duplicate topics. Thirdly, you want to learn the names of the managing or acquisitions editor. In short, you want to be knowledgeable enough about the periodical that you can effectively discuss with the editor ways you can make a valuable contribution.
            Next, you want to research your topic, if needed. The more you know about your topic, the better, even if all the info isn’t included in your article. Be sure to organize and save your research by topic either in hard copy or in a Word file or both. Based on your research, you can then jot down a simple or detailed outline according to your preference. An outline helps you organize your article into sections and will often become the subheadings when you write the piece. I often tell my writing students that organizing and developing an article requires much the same process as any type of writing. You want a gripping introduction where you pose a thought-provoking question, share a personal anecdote, or provide a startling statistic. Grab the reader what the start. Make him want to read on. Then you transition into the body of the article where you develop the points of your outline. You may include source material, so make sure you adequately annotate others’ work. In this section, you want to make sure you keep the reader hanging on to the finish line. Then you will wrap up the article with a satisfying conclusion that briefly summarizes your main points, offers a challenge, or encourages the reader, depending on the type of article you are writing.
            Often writers wonder which comes first: querying the editor about an idea or writing the full article. You can do it either way. Personally, I like writing the entire article. That way I have a solid take on what I want to present. I can always modify according to the editor’s preference if the idea is accepted. Of course, the writers’ guide will specify what the editor wants. If the entry states, “Query Only,” that means you must only submit a proposal. A proposal typically includes a brief cover letter stating who you are and what you have to offer through your topic, two to three paragraphs detailing what you will cover in your article and why you think it would be a good fit for the magazine, the word count, and your qualifications to write the article. Don’t make promises you can’t deliver. This leaves a bad taste in an editor’s mouth, and s/he may not request another article from you. Always include your full name and contact information on every page of your proposal. Address the editor by his or her name rather than “Dear Editor.” This shows you’ve done your homework and reveals professionalism from the get-go.
            Once you’ve submitted your query or full article, then comes the waiting . . . and the waiting. Don’t sit around and fume, or check your inbox every thirty minutes. Move on to another article idea and start the process over again. Publishing anything is usually a slow process. If after two months you haven’t heard from the editor, email a friendly note asking for the status on the article. Always include your name and contact info at the header of the email and the title of the article. Also, keep a file list of submitted articles/queries with posted dates of submittal/acceptance/rejection. I like to color code the various statuses so I can easily breeze through my list and see where I stand. However you choose to manage your file, it’s crucial that you keep one in order to know who you’ve submitted to and when.
            Furthermore, in your desire to break in, always maintain a professional attitude. A humble, teachable spirit will go a long way in wooing an editor to your project. My first big break into the periodical market was a lesson in this very thing. When my first attempt was rejected by a major Christian magazine, I decided to email the editor and ask what I could do to oblige his readership with the article. After two months of waiting, I heard back from him. He said, “You know, I’ve worked with this magazine for six years. Never in all the time I’ve been here have I rethought an article once I rejected it. But something made me look at yours again.” The magazine did publish my feature article titled, “Releasing Rachel: When God Calls Your Child into Fulltime Missions.” The magazine hit the stands the same month Rachel, our single daughter, left for career missions in India. Perfect timing that only God could know and orchestrate.  
Lastly, but most importantly, bathe the entire process, from garnering ideas to finding a publisher, in prayer. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit, we as aspiring or seasoned writers will not enjoy the power and impact we desire for our words.