I like vampires

Hook the reader from the start.

That’s what my writing mentors have taught me. So, yeah, I have a thing for vampires right now. I’m a little late. Dystopian survivalists seem to be the “thing” now, but I’ve been carrying around Twilight for months. I want to read it. I want to learn from it. I want to discover the secrets of how it became an icon in popular culture.

Oh, yeah. I also think Johnny Depp and Dark Shadows revamped my interest in the vampire culture. Pardon the pun. My mom and I used to watch the show together when I was a little girl. The movie brings back fond memories.

I’ve been working with a group of very talented writers in my creative writing class. Each of them has his or her own blog, and we have a group blog page called the Bluelight Lounge. You can find it at this address:  bluelightlounge.wordpress.com . There is a link to all the writers’ blogs on the page for easy access to their work.

Our assignment this week was to write a blog about reading, so I figured I should follow my own rules and write about reading too.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t have a lot of money, and I was an only child. I spent a lot of time alone. Fortunately, my mom let me get my very own library card, and I was off on new adventures at the public library. Most people in my town won’t remember this, but the public library used to be on the square in an old building. I still remember the smell of the books. I still remember carrying out every dog book I could find. I loved dogs, and I read everything I could about them, including fictions stories—all the Lassie stories and the books about Ginger Pie. And horses. I read everything I could about horses, but I found most of those books in my school library.

I wasn’t a good reader. I was a bad reader, bad in that I wanted to read what I wanted to read, not necessarily what my teacher assigned to me. So, yes, kiddos, I get it when you sneak a book in your lap and turn the pages when you are supposed to be listening to me teach. Sometimes a good book is just too difficult to put down.

The Outsiders remains my all-time favorite, but I like mysterious stories with a twist of the supernatural. I think that’s why Frank Peretti’s book This Present Darkness changed my life. It opened my eyes to another world beyond the veil. Right now I’m hooked on the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. Odd is a twenty-year-old fry cook who sees dark shapes that show up at places of mass destruction. Are they demons or omens of death? We don’t know. Odd’s visions are a gift—or a curse. Whatever the case, he deals with it with his ever so funny, dry sense of humor. Oh, yeah, he also sees ghosts. Elvis shows up every now and then. And who can resist Elvis?

When I went to the ACFW conference, I naturally had to visit the Revell table at the bookstore. (Hint, hint. I would be ecstatic to see one of my novels with a Revell logo on it.) This year I didn’t have much cash to spend on books, but I could not resist picking up a couple of Revell novels by Mike Duran: The Resurrection and The Telling.

The back cover blurbs hooked me. “When Ruby Case raises a boy from the dead, she creates an uproar in the quiet coastal town of Stonetree. Some brand her a witch; others a godsend.” I can’t wait to open the first page of The Resurrection. So what’s the answer? What is Ruby?

The Telling is Duran’s second novel, and the back blurb is equally compelling: “Zeph is also blessed with a gift—an uncanny ability to forsee the future, to know peoples’ deepest sins and secrets. He calls it The Telling.” Wow. Zeph sounds like someone I know. I can already imagine the movie playing out in my head.

But right now my two favorite books are The Edge and Crossroads, my manuscripts in what I hope will be a series.

I was talking to a friend of mine about how our children were growing up. We’ve devoted our lives to helping their dreams come true. Now she and I, both writers, want to complete our lives—to find and develop our calling. And I believe the answer lies within books—God’s book, the Bible, of course, and the stories He has given us to enjoy our own creativity and to create books to inspire other people.

CONTEST! 

What’s your calling? What are you reading? How has reading changed your life? Please offer some feedback. I will randomly choose from the comments and send the speaker a book from my library. But if you are chosen, you must send me a private email with your contact information so that I can get it to you.

Happy reading!  You have until Saturday, October 13, to join in the conversation. Please let me know what you think. Your words, your writings, truly encourage me, and, hopefully, I, in turn, can encourage you.

Liar

I possess neither the patience nor the finesse of talking to a soon to be 13-year-old boy. Michael met me at my school this afternoon, but instead of me driving him home, I made a right toward Walmart.

“Where we going?” be asked.

“Home,” I said. “But first we’re going to get your hair cut.”

Speaking of cut, he cut me off before I could say another word.

“Dad said, ‘Walmart has raised the prices of hair cuts, and they don’t cut it the way you want them to. They have a book that they HAVE to cut from.’ He said he’d take me tomorrow.”

During their football practice? Nope. I don’t think so. Thus, I launched into my conversation about truth.

“Michael, you know I love you, but I am very concerned with the lies you tell.”

“WHAT?” Indignation floweth forth.

“I didn’t lie.”

My response was calm and simple. “I don’t believe your dad would care to research Walmart’s haircut policies and prices.” As usual, Michael had an explanation. “Well, I ran my sentences together. I was going to say that Dad would take me tomorrow. Then I just added the other stuff.”

See, Michael has a particular place where he gets his hair cut, and he really likes it there. But the shop is closed on Wednesdays, and Michael has football practice every other afternoon.

And that’s when the conversation went from bad to worse.

“Why would I lie?” he asked. “You wouldn’t even know it if I lied. I’m a really good liar.”

Oh, really?

Again, speaking calmly and simply, I said, “Michael, I hate it when people lie to me.”

Ever the defensive Lockhart, his response was quick. “I don’t lie.”

There was a short pause as I shot him the evil mom glare, and then he added one word.

“Often.”

It’s true. I absolutely can’t stand it when someone lies to me. And despite Michael’s lack of faith in my ability to read people, I’m not so bad at figuring out what’s real and what’s not. I guess teaching taught me that little tool. I’m a conundrum. Either I trust too much, or I don’t trust at all.

As for my students, I don’t catch every one of them who tries to pull a fast one. But when I find out that I’ve been had, I ache inside. I really care about people, and it hurts when they betray me. I’d rather endure the sting of truth than suffer the deep cut of misplaced trust. A friend you can truly trust is like a safety net that catches you when you fall in life.

I tell my students that sneaking an answer on a test may earn them a few extra points, but in the big picture they’d rather have me on their side. If they’ll just be honest with me and let me know they’re failing, I will find another way to help them succeed. I’ll be their safety net.

I guess that’s how God feels about us, about me.

I don’t like it when other people lie, but it’s hard for me to admit that I lie too. Maybe that’s where Michael gets his deception. I lie to others, and I lie to myself. I suppose some people call that kind of lying denial.

In a few days I will be off to Dallas for the adventure of my life. I’ll be boarding a plane all by myself. I’ve never flow in a big plane before, and I keep telling myself I’m not scared.

My greatest goal in life has been to be a published writer. Yes, I want to hold a book in my hands and smell the ink and feel the pages. But no, I don’t expect my life to change drastically once I’m published, if I’m ever published. I won’t make a lot of money.

But money is not an issue with me. If I have it, I will spend it on the things that make people happy, myself included. If I don’t have the money, I don’t fret over what I can’t have. I just think of those things I want as little treasures at the end of the rainbow. Maybe I’ll stumble across them. Maybe I won’t. (Sure wish I could stumble over a 69 Camaro.)

What I really want to do is EARN the privilege to teach others about writing. I wouldn’t consider myself a legitimate source if I weren’t actually published. I dream of holding workshops and going to schools to teach young people how to write. So maybe this will be the year that I will find an agent and an editor who will help me get my books into print.

I’m going to Dallas because I am a finalist in the ACFW Genesis contest, a pretty amazing achievement. Thank you, God. The winner will be announced at a gala. Although the finalists are not guaranteed a contract, the opportunities for meeting the right person to put the publishing plan in motion are ripe. My name will be “out there.”

But I think I’ve blown my chances. That’s me admitting the truth. The fact is I haven’t been writing as I should have. I haven’t been writing period. I can’t. My heart is too heavy. I have too much on my mind. When I lost my parents, I lost a part of me. And when I lost my parents, I realized that I am and always have been a human being separate from them. I always lived to please them. Now I’m on my own. I have to make my own decisions and accept myself for who I am, imperfect as that may be.

I’ve lied to myself, told myself that I’m all right. But that’s not the case. I want to be a writer, but just like the game rock, paper, scissors, sadness beats writing right now. I wish it didn’t.

The purpose of my blog is not for me to have an open diary. I’ve been telling my students for the past week that to write is to be vulnerable, to open up and to reveal a part of yourself. So struggling, hurting writers, I want you to know, you are not alone. I’m sure my writing mentors and heroes have had their own hurdles to overcome.

The past few days have been emotional ones for me. Both of my boys have birthdays this week. My older son’s birthday was Sept. 12. Happy birthday, Josh. I love you.

And Michael’s birthday is Sept. 14. I will soon be mom to a brand new teenager and a brand new “legal” adult. I don’t think I can handle it. What do I do? I miss my mom and dad. Now I know how they felt when I reached milestones in my life. But they always had the answers. I don’t.

So back to the truth. I fear I’m not ready for Dallas. Sadness beats writing in this moment, but will it permanently beat out reaching my dreams?

Writing requires a kind of self truth, even if everything you write is a lie. They just give it a fancy name called fiction.

So instead of accusing Michael of lying, maybe I should have asked him if he was resorting to fiction again.

Maybe denial has been my writer’s block. I know I can do this. I know I can write. The stories are there. I guess I’m just going to have to tell me and God the truth. I can’t do all this by myself. I’m not fine. I’m not the perfect person I want others to see. I need a little help.

I’ve been telling myself over and over, “I don’t lie.” I guess I should have added another word.

“Often.”

Tarred and feathered

2011 ACFW Conference in St. Louis

For the last month I’ve been preaching to my Motlow English students, “Voice, voice, voice. You’ve got to find your voice. We English teachers are KILLING your writing because we’re taking away your voice. We’re making you all sound the same with your generically proper English.”

Yes, I know my students MUST learn to write proper academic papers, but they are so concerned about not using contractions and not using fragments that they’re losing their voices.

Why is that a problem? Because when they write their scholarship essays, their essays won’t stand out from the others. They will all sound the same.

Well, duh. Smack me in the head with a Harry Potter book. Yes, I said Harry Potter. It has to be a BIG book because up until now I have been teaching it and preaching it, but I haven’t been “getting it.”

I attended two back-to-back writer conferences, the SCBWI conference in Nashville and the ACFW in St. Louis. I almost bowed out of both of them. I wasn’t prepared. The Nashville conference offered a contest to the first 25 entries in each genre.

I didn’t want to enter my old manuscript, so like a phoenix, I aimed to rise up from the ashes of my failures to try something new. So I wrote all night from the top of my head about a girl and a guitar. I wrote from my heart. I wrote with abandon and came up with a killer title I blatantly stole from a Matt Urmy song.

But I didn’t make the contest. I was too late with my submission. All that writing for nothing.

At that point I REALLY didn’t want to go to the conference, but I had already paid the fee. I felt defeated—again. I was just tired. Well, I wasn’t just tired—I was tarred. That’s how we say it in the South. That’s how we say
it when we aren’t being good and proper English teachers.

To make matters worse. I had paid for a writing critique. But what was I going to send?  On a whim, I packaged my newly penned WIP with the killer title and sent it off. I expected the worse.

When I arrived to the conference, I dragged myself into the critique session and awaited my sentence. I was doomed.

Then the oddest thing happened. The literary agent said she liked it. Most of all, she liked my voice, and she said my main character was very likeable and very funny. (She underlined very on my critique notes.) She also said my work was very marketable for the teen audience.

Woo hoo! Too bad I hadn’t finished it. Next time I will send a completed manuscript.

But I finally figured “it” out, “it” being the lesson I have trying to teach my students. Voice is everything. Voice
comes from the heart.

My voice is quirky because I’m quirky. My colleagues wear business suits. I’m more comfortable in jeans, yellow Converse sneakers with daisies, and vintage rock t-shirts.

For crying out loud, I have feathers in my hair! What’s wrong with me?

Okay, I can explain the feathers. I blame it all on pirates and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, a rather nice combination, I think. My older son dared me; my younger son BEGGED me, on his knees with a tiny little tear in his left eye, “Don’t do it, Mom.”

But I did it. I have four little feathers in my hair. How was I to know that every middle school girl in the county would get her hair did that way too? Oh, well.

But I’ve learned that jeans, yellow daisy shoes, and rock tees are who I am. Feathers too. And FYI, my feathers have been a great conversation starter. I’ve had several women my age and older ask me why, and I say, “Because these feathers remind me I’m not afraid to be me.” They smile and nod and say, “I think I might just get some feathers too.”

So FINALLY I am on the path to figuring it out. I can’t write with any other voice. I have to write with my own—as quirky and unconventional as it is. And I must, must, must write with humor. So I over exaggerate. So I sneak in quirky characters and ridiculous situations. Isn’t life quirky and unpredictable?

And tragic?

When I went to St. Louis, I met three women who set my writing wheels back in motion. I attended Morgan
Doremus’ workshop on author branding. She explained that an author’s voice IS a major element of her branding.

I attended Janice Thompson’s workshop “A Merry Heart,” and she said that a funny book, a reason to laugh, is
like an ointment that soothes the hurt in our hearts and souls.

I pray my words can be an ointment.

And I met literary agent Natasha Kern.

Ms. Kern asked me why I had signed up to meet with her. She didn’t represent YA authors. I didn’t realize I had signed up to meet with her. Her name appeared my conference agenda, and there we were—together. A mismatch.

It’s not that she would never represent YA authors. She might be interested if I were the next Jenny B. Jones. But  I’ll never be the next Jenny B. Jones. But I am, however, the now and forever Teresa Lockhart.

Then Ms. Kern pointed to her heart and said, “You have to write from here. Don’t write to please the
markets. Don’t let anyone change the way you write.”

Then she went on to tell me she was pretty unconventional herself. After all, it was she who sold her client’s
book about Amish vampires.

Okay. I like that. She’s a woman who’s true to her word.

So here I am, “tarred” and feathered, but I’ve got my compass in hand, and I’m ready to set sail on this writing adventure again.

Ahoy, mateys.

SHAMELESS PROMOTION CONTEST

Deadline for commenting for contest: Midnight Friday, Oct. 7, 2011
Congratulations Mandy Hunt and Amanda Taylor, whose names were drawn from the “cyber hat.”
Please email me privately so that I can get your mailing addresses to send you your cards.
lockhart13@charter.net

Rebel with a cause

A writer who is a real writer is a rebel who never stops.

~ William Saroyan  ~

A year and a half ago I knew if I didn’t come up with 250 words in 15 minutes I would never become a writer.

I was supposed to meet a friend so that we could ride together to Lebanon to a writer’s conference. I had planned to submit the first page of my novel for critique, but there was one problem. I didn’t have a novel. I certainly couldn’t write one in 15 minutes. But all I needed was a page.

In a tear, I sat down at my computer and tapped out the introduction to a story that had been echoing in my head. I hit print, and off I went, first page in hand.

Art by Michelle Spiziri (www.galeriemichelle-online.com)

I put my page in the basket with the work of the other writers’, and when it was my turn for critique, the editors actually showed an interest. They said it showed potential. That’s all I needed. Just a smidgen of encouragement.

Within a year of that conference, I wrote my first manuscript, The Edge—without having attended a major writers’ conference, without having talked to an editor, without having  worked with a critique group.

What was I thinking?

I was thinking I wanted to be a writer. Nobody told me that I should do all of these things. I learned them the hard way—by making my mistakes and then by having some kind, patient, compassionate, unselfish soul gently show me how to correct them.

I am now a member of a writers’ group and a critique group. I’ve attended several conferences this year, including the impressive ACFW in Indianapolis. I’m already planning on going to St. Louis in September, and I am polishing my Genesis entry.

I don’t know when or how God will grant the desires of my heart. But I do know that whatever He gives me, I will return to him.

I hope if God chooses to grant me publication that he will bless me with the desire to show kindness, patience, compassion and unselfishness so that I can encourage other people like me to pursue their dreams.

I’ve always been the kind of person who zigs when other people zag. I don’t follow the same scripts other people do. Not that I’m an intentional rebel, mind you. I just see things differently, so I act differently. When everyone else is watching the drama unfold on stage, I like to go behind the scenes and find out what makes people tick.

I don’t have an ulterior motive. That’s just the way I’m wired.

I write because God is doing something with my life, and I want to share the experience with as many people as possible.

I may not be an authority in the publishing field. But I do consider myself an authority on being a quirky, clumsy goof ball with little self-confidence and a whole lot of self doubt. Is there anyone else out there who feels this way too?

I’m a dreamer—I’ll admit it. But if I can provide a smidgeon of encouragement that helps other people overcome their fears and purse their dreams, then I will have succeeded.

http://fineartamerica.com/featured/day-dreamer-michelle-spiziri.html

Launch pad

“If you don’t like your life, why don’t you change it?”

Someone that I don’t know very well told me that recently—or rather emailed me that recently. It’s funny how people you don’t even know can “coincidentally” deliver different forms of the same message.

Oh, how I enjoy interviewing people. Whenever I interview someone, I know that I’m going to learn something new so that I can become a better person. It works EVERY time. Well, in my last “big” interview, my subject told me that people are generally happy as they want to be. They’re doing what they want to do even if they complain about their circumstances. His words made me think about my own life. I was not where I wanted to be, but I wasn’t doing anything about it.

I want to be a writer. I want to write for young adults.

I decided to get serious about it. Shortly after I took the first steps to “get serious,” I found these words in my email. Hmmm. I also decided that I started out by getting serious about my fitness. I want to be more disciplined. I’ve given up my couch for challenging activity. I have gotten stronger. I have built my endurance. I am succeeding. I am changing my life.

Taking my writing to a professional level has definitely resulted in a life change. For one, I will embark this weekend to Indianapolis to the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. I will be one of hundreds who are also determined to change their lives. What’s cool about this conference and this group of people is that everyone genuinely there wishes one another well. I have already met some wonderful new friends. There’s an answered prayer right there.

In fact, everywhere I’ve turned I’ve met new people that I really seem to connect with. In fact, I’ve made new friends at work and at play and at the writing events I’ve attended. I’ve never been happier in my life. And it all goes back to, you guessed it, changing my life.  Yes, God answered my prayers, but I had to overcome some of my fears so that I could try something new.

This may be my last blog for a few days as I’ll be preparing to go out of town, but I plan to bring back some tidbits of what I learned for my Monday Mentor. Another one of my prayers is to encourage other people who are afraid to take a step of faith.  I don’t know what God has in store, but I’m listening. I want to help others too.

I have to remind myself that change is a process, rarely ever an overnight occurrence. Right now I am dealing with extreme anxiety and forgetfulness. I have a very special ichthus necklace that’s made of leather and a nail, but I can’t find it. I lost it when our house flooded due to a broken pipe. I wear it when I need to be reminded not to mess up.  I tend to mess up. It seems that losing things has become a habit for me.

My substitute reminder is a smaller, very inexpensive fish necklace. I wore it when I was dress shopping for the conference, and I took it off in the dressing room—and left it there. I had already driven to another store when I remembered it. Fortunately, it was there when I returned.  You would think I would have learned my lesson, but I did it again at the very next store.  This store was a little more snooty that the previous one. When I went back to retrieve it, the lady had it waiting for me at the counter. She eyed me suspiciously. I’m not sure what she was thinking, but once again, I was happy to have it back.

Since then I’ve lost my car keys and my cell phone—more than once. I have also lost a pair of black sandals that I really, really need. I’m at a loss. Where could they be? And this morning I left before dawn and ended uo leaving my lights on all day. Needless to say, my battery was dead when I returned to my truck this afternoon. I had to get to the rec center for my class, so I didn’t have time to panic. I took charge and flagged down my friend, who happened to have jumper cables. But neither of us really knew how to use them. So I took charge—AGAIN.

I hooked them up wrong. But thankfully I did not blow up our automobiles. A co-worker came along and show me how to do it the right way. God takes care of me when I try to take charge.

I have my little black dress and heels—nothing too fancy, but it works. I have my new business cards. I have my one-sheets. I have my proposal. I have my sample chapters. I think I’m ready to go. The only thing I’m working on now is preparing my heart for what God has in store, good or bad. I’m ready for a new life. How about you?

Stay tuned for updates on the conference—and pictures—and a new CONTEST. Oh yes, if you will please remember me in your prayers. If you have any requests, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’ll pray for you

Leaving Manchester for the good

Well, I’ve decided to pack my bags and to leave Manchester.

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all of you who have supported me during the three or so weeks that I have been in possession of a complete, revised novel. I especially want to thank the EDGE staff for advising me during the year-long writing process. Without your help I would not have had “straight from the horse’s mouth insider information” concerning what teens do and do not want to read. And thank you, EDGE staff, for helping me get a better handle on what teens would really do if they were faced with the same types of crises that TJ and Megan face. I could not have made it this far without you.

Even though you have been an incredible support system to me, I realize I need more—namely an agent, an editor and a publishing house. Hmmm. I have bribed you a couple of times in the past. Would a bribe work now? How about Aztec Chicken every Friday at El Manantial until for the first person who can bring me the three aforementioned items?  On second thought, let me rethink that offer. I am envisioning an illegal kidnapping plot involving one or more Edgers—all for the sake of Aztec Chicken. I can see said agent being duct-taped and taken away in a little orange VW bus full of crazed writers in dreadlocks and hippie shirts.

But as I was saying, I have decided to leave Manchester to attend the ACFW Conference at the end of summer if all goes well, but I’ll return within a few days. (And, yes, some family members will accompany me to make sure I stay out of trouble.) I hope that while I am there I will learn the process of acquiring the three treasures listed above. All kidding aside, please keep me in your prayers. The YA (young adult) market is very competitive right now, and prayer is a necessity.

I’m really shocked that the YA market is so tough. When I walk into the classroom, I see most of you lugging around a book or two, and I’m not talking about required reading. Of course, I teach writers, and good readers, as we know, make good writers. Maybe that’s why YOU have a book in your hands. Your reading and writing go hand in hand.

I want to know what it is about the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series that lures both young and older readers. What magic do these novels possess? Are teens reading anything else these days? If so, what? Speaking of reading, what are you reading right now? 

I’ll go first, and then it’s your turn.  As you know I just finished, The Heart’s Journey Home by Jen Stephens. Next, on my list is In Between by Jenny B. Jones. After that, I’ll looking forward to a novel by Kaye Dacus. I was also hoping for another Odd Thomas novel by Dean Koontz, but it appears Odd is only appearing in graphic novels these days. Sigh.

It’s your turn now.