Pieper1Greetings from lovely Mount Dora, Florida, where we’re experiencing a few welcome weeks of spring before we move into our sticky summer weather. Today, I’ll share a special encore interview with author Maureen Pratt. Maureen comes to publishing from the unique perspective of a lupus and hypothyroid patient who also serves as an advocate for others suffering from chronic disease. Far from negative, her books and her speaking provide hope, help, and practical inspiration.                          Maureen Pratt

Welcome, Maureen! How many books do you have published, and what are a few of your latest titles? 

I have seven published books, and my newest one is releasing this spring: Don’t Panic!: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough (Franciscan Media). Other titles in print include: Peace in the Storm: Meditations on Chronic Pain and Illness (Image/Penguin Random House) and Beyond Pain: Job, Jesus, and Joy (Twenty-Third Publications).

Smaller book cover Dont PanicThose all sound great. You were last featured on the CAN blog in 2012. What are the chief lessons you’ve learned about the writing life since then?

Keep praying and persevere! It has been five years between my last book and my newest one, but there’s a lot that happens between times. I’ve had more life experiences, which inform my work tremendously, and I’ve developed more patience (I hope) in letting God work within me to take those experiences and turn them into something that might help or encourage others. I’ve also learned much more about the “hot buttons” that readers are concerned about today, and Don’t Panic! is a response to those, especially the anxiety and panic that we might feel when a crisis of any kind strikes. In my lifetime, I’ve lived through natural disasters, civil unrest, and personal health crises, all the while relying on God and keeping Scripture, prayer, and Jesus Christ close. These invaluable supports have enabled me to cope and be resilient, and I hope others will find more peace as they read about them and other supports in Don’t Panic! Read More →

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Maureen pic from booksigningI'll be taking about a year off of my CAN blog and other CAN activities (but will still "lurk" on the message boards and chime in from time to time – and will still keep writing my Beliefnet blog). The reasons for this are several: Because of a new autoimmune disease/condition diagnosis, I'll be starting a rather potent immunosuppressive drug and don't know what the side effects will be; I have a number of longer writing projects that I am eager to complete; and, well, sometimes I know I have to "do" rather than write about doing!

Which leads me to my blog topic. 

In the midst of our hectic schedules and multiple deadlines, it's always a good idea to revisit the "genesis" of it all, and then gauge projects at hand with what your reason for writing needs to yield. In other words, given that you are a writer at heart and have a love of storytelling, and could turn that storytelling ability to any number of different styles and genres, is what you're writing now what you're meant to write? Purposed to write? Gifted to write?

There's no easy answer to this question, and certainly it's individual for each person. But there are some helpful gauges to determine if you are, indeed, on the right track. 

One gauge is your answer to this:  Are the projects you have now enabling you to say what you have to say? Or, is God tapping you on the shoulder and whispering, "Not here, my child. Over there."? 

If you are very reluctant to get to the keyboard, or if you have become a master or mistress of procrastination, scrambling at the nth hour of a deadline, perhaps God is tapping you on the proverbial shoulder, encouraging you to stop, revisit why you write, and find the better path for your writing talents. As with other things involved in finding purpose in our lives, once writing projects mesh with your need to coommunicate specific sentiments, beliefs, or observations, you probably won't feel as much like procrastinating. Rather, you'll have abundant "fire in the belly" to get to work! 

Another good gauge is if the paychecks become more important than the work itself, or your pursuit of the business end of writing becomes so all-consuming that you cut into your actual writing time.

Another gauge: You find yourself pursuing more of the same kinds of projects, rather than stretching your gifts to "make the most of them."  

Throughout our careers, it's wise to take time to pray over our writing lives career focus. And, to take time to listen to God as he informs us with his tap on the shoulder.

Despite the health issues that loom (and they are very serious), I am quite excited about the coming year. Through prayer, a bit of "deck clearing," and renewed determination, I am ever more sure of why I write, and I'm looking forward to putting fingers to the keyboard like never before! I pray that this year ahead is full of inspiration for you, too, and that your reasons for writing propel you to author amazing works of inspiration and faith. I look forward to reading them!

Joy and peace,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningHello, and Happy Easter! Maureen Pratt here with my monthly CAN blog – just in time for Easter joy and Springtime green!

This time of year is fresh with promise. Trees are budding, flowers are blooming, and seeds are sprouting. My creative juices seem to flow more freely at this time of year, too, and all sorts of seedlings are popping up, showing off their first leaves, and looking good for the coming warmer months.

What in the world am I talking about?

There are powerful analogies between gardening and growth and solid story-telling. Whether fiction or non-fiction, our writing work is made up of all sorts of little seeds, planted in the fertile ground of the mind and imagination. And these seeds, as all seeds do, need certain things to help grow. 

A Biblical reflection to follow… But now, I want to focus on how we plant, nurture, and grow our fragile seeds into blossoming stories that enrich the world and grace our lives.

First, there are the seeds obtained from first inspiration or impression. You hear a name or see a picture, and all of a sudden, you think, "Wow! There's a story in that!" Or, you are intrigued by some thing – a sewing case, a swatch of fabric or an old, dusty piece of pottery, and your mind starts turning on whose it was, where it has been, what history it might have lived through.

I got the idea for my master's thesis by standing in front of a bird cage at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and overhearing the snide remarks made at the birds inside of it, who were quite ugly and forlorn.

Yes, there are these small seeds all around us. And, sometimes, they become as the mustard seed and sprout into strong, large stories/plants.

But sometimes, we have to realize that those tiny seeds, while intriguing, might not make for a full book or a really newsy news article. When I realize this, I still make note of the "seed," because I've found that some have uses as yet unknown. 

There are other seeds, which yield more robustly. These are usually helped along by us, that is, we start with inspiration and work at building a world of a story around it. Or, we know a person or situation that lends itself to our "pen," that we cannot let go no matter how we try to ignore it. Fertile soil of time and energy, abundant sprinklings of the Word, even pruning and pulling up weeds (unnecessary elements), when we must. This is really the work of the gardener-as-writer, along with healthy, story-worthy seed.

As we work on our work at hand, we will undoubtedly collect seeds for future use. Much like the displays at garden centers, we can jot these down, file them away, and have them ready when needed. Like nature's bounty, many seeds will keep for years, patiently waiting for the time when they'll be planted and spring up.

NP-1 for First ClassThere is one more thing about seeds and stories, a Biblical thing, that is worth mentioning. Remember the parable of the sower in Luke 8:4-9, about the soewr whose seed fell on the path and was trampled, on rocky ground and it withered, and on good soil and it "grew, it produced fruit a hundredfold?" Our story seeds are like these, too. If we merely write to the momentary inspiration (to those little, fragile seeds), we probably won't yield full work. If we write, sometimes faithfully and sometimes not, our story seeds will not flourish in that rocky environment. But if we provide "good" soil – time, focus, prayer, energy, and love…Well, imagine how lush, how beautiful the finished product can be!

Blessings to you – for Easter and for Spring!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.belifnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen pic from booksigningAs writers who work at our craft every day, we meet the blank page squarely with the intent of filling it. What will we write about? How will we describe our characters? Which facts will we use to flesh out our story and, if writing an opinion piece, our arguments?

But there is another element to writing that is often more potent than what we say on a page. That is, what we don't say. Indeed, the use of not using certain words, descriptions, or dialogue is a potent part of the writer's craft, strong and bold when used well, but disruptive and weak when used poorly.

Of course, omission in writing can get in the way of good reporting and storytelling. If you find yourself asking, "What, then?" or "Huh?" while reading, chances are you have omitted something important from your piece. For example:

"There were three people in the room she wanted to avoid: Jeremy and Phil…"

Who was the third? Or:

"Stubbing a toe is not a leading cause of death in women…"

Okay, then what is?

But omission can fill in the blanks without contributing to the "dreaded" word count limitations, too. An example of well-placed omission might be:

"You sound angry."

"I'm not angry."

"I rest my case."

In this example, you don't need the description, "she said, snapping" or any other descriptor to understand that the line "I'm not angry" was said in, well, anger.

Here's another:

He rose from the chair. "I can see this conversation isn't going anywhere. Let me know when you've thought things over more."

His words still rang in her ears as she watched him get into his car in the street below.

In the above example, you don't need to describe his going to the door, closing it, and walking downstairs and out of the building. Her point of view implies all of that without needing to say it.

Some descriptors can be substituted for verbs:

"He was at least six inches taller than Barbara" can become "He towered over Barbara."

And a character's POV can be pared, too, while still remaining strong:

"She saw tables, chairs, carpets, lamps, china, books, and sundry unidentifiable objects in the antique shop, and then saw him" can strengthen with: "She spied his mop of dark hair peeking through the piles of clutter in the antique shop."

Setimes, we focus on all the things we are going to write onto our blank pages. But, sometimes, too, strategically leaving things out can actually make our writing even more full!

Blessings for the day!

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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Maureen Pratt Author PicHello!  Maureen Pratt here with another blog post about the writing art and craft. This time, some thoughts about the English language and how we might mix it up a little to yield fresh "color," insight, and depth to our work.

Two real life events have inspired me to blog about this. One was a conversation I overheard in the post office. It went like this:

Postal Clerk (handing Customer a pane of stamps): Here you go.

Customer: Where? Here I go where?

Postal Clerk: Your stamps, sir. Here you go.

Customer: Where do I go?

Postal Clerk (pointing at pane of stamps): I don't know, sir, but here are your stamps.

Customer: Oh. Thank you.

 

The other event was a conversation I had with an employee at my local grocery store. It went like this:

Employee: Did you find everything you wanted, ma'am?

Me: Yes, except you didn't have blueberries.

Employee: If you're really craving blueberries, we have frozen.

Me: I know, but they don't go well on cereal.

Employee: Got it. How about strawberries?

Me: I like them, but not on cereal.

Employee: Too bad. Because the strawberries are really transcendent today.

If you smiled at both of these illustrations, I'm right there with you. The first exchange involved someone whose native language was not English and who clearly had trouble with the idiom, "here you go." The second one invovled someone whose native language was English, but who clearly went beyond the norm in word association. (What would it have been like, I wonder, if I had purchased and eaten those "transcendent" strawberries?!)

Although different in context and character, both of these are examples of how creative we can get with English, depending not just on who is speaking, but to whom one is speaking. I don't have to go into a detailed description, for example, to convey the quirky character of someone who would describe strawberries as "transcendent." I also don't have to go into much detail at all to demonstrate how the English language, particularly slang and idioms, can be confusing for the non-native speaker – all it takes is those few lines of dialogue.

When I interview people for my non-fiction work, I keep my ears tuned to those sometimes-subtle, but always telling turns of phrase that can give away someone's background, expertise, or spiritual context. Often, my intervewees are unaware of how they sound, how they put words together, and what phrases they use. But if I can pick up on these, my work can be much tighter and telling than any labored description I might come up with.

In fiction, I use much the same technique. A character who is an engineer, for example, might describe something completely differently from someone who is a musician. The engineer might be more apt to talk in terms of form, fit, and building blocks, whereas the musician might use his or her sense of rhythm, tone, and feeling. The engineer might be a very linear communicator (A + B = C), whereas someone who is more artistically inclined might be non-linear (A + (A-B) – E = ?)

Simple words can be powerful descriptors. For example, growing up in Illinois, I always called the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk the "boulevard." In Ohio, it was the "treelawn." In Boston, a drinking fountain was a "bubbler."  Add to these little differences the challenge of regional pronunciations, and it's no wonder that many find English to be an extremely difficult language to master!

As children, we read of pink elephants, flying monkeys, talking bears, and mad hatters. As adults, and as writers, we can call upon that play on reality and language to craft English work that has creative depth and, dare I say it, transcendent description – even when writing of the most mundane of subjects.

Blessings of joy and peace,

Maureen

www.maureenpratt.com

http://blog.beliefnet.com/gooddaysbaddays/

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