This is the first Monday in a while that I have literally been counting down the days to. Because today is Jill William’s Team Novel Teen Blog Tour–featuring none other than Interrupted: Life Beyond Words. Being the author of Interrupted, I obviously have special interest in this event, but hopefully you’ll want to check it out, too! Eleven different bloggers are talking about Interrupted today, and I’m posting the links below for you to check out! Ten dollars to any reader who visits every blog and comments “Rachel Coker is the best. I know her personally and I can truthfully attest to the fact that she is funny, staggeringly brilliant, and cute!” (Joking ;P)
Anyway, here are links to the reviews:
Most of these bloggers also posted a review of my book on Amazon, which just tickled me pink. It’s so weird to go on Amazon.com and see that Interrupted has a 4.3 rating and over 20 reviews! A few years ago, I would have never ever thought that something like that could be possible. I guess God had different plans than I did! 😉
[Note: Yes, the title of this blog post may in fact be derived from a Barney song. Yes, I used to watch Barney. Sue me.]
When I was about ten years old, I wanted to be Broadway star. No, seriously. A decked-out, costumes-and-makeup, belting-Rodgers-and-Hammerstein kind of Broadway star. Then I realized I couldn’t sing, dance, or perform well under pressure. So I shelved that dream. Before that, I wanted to win the national spelling bee and enjoy life as the employed version of a professional speller. Not really sure what that job would have entailed, but I guess it would have involved a lot of grammar and Latin derivatives. Only I hate Latin. So there went that one. I also remember thinking once that I wanted to grow up and own a lot of horses and live on the Moor with long sweeping skirts and riding boots and some kind twenty-first century version of Heathcliff. That probably would have been my best aspiration of them all, if not for the fact that the two times I’ve tried riding on horseback I couldn’t go faster than a slow jog because my fear of heights plus my fear of giant smelly animals was made my head hurt. It’s kind of hard to gallop after Heathcliff when you can hardly think straight on horseback.
So, needless to say, all of my childhood dreams ceased to come true. The closest I ever got to a Broadway show was row eighteen or nineteen on a week night performance of “Phantom of the Opera”. The last time I participated in a spelling bee was in sixth grade and I almost went home crying from embarrassment because I put the letter ‘e’ at the end of “acrobat”. (Still trying to figure that one out) And I no longer have a desire to do anything involving cleaning up after large animals, even if it were to include sweeping dresses and dreamy British guys.
Looking back on my childhood aspirations from the very wise and mature age of sixteen has caused me to do some reflecting this week. Because I have hopes and dreams and aspirations now. I want to travel the world, and meet people, and visit a drive-in movie theater, and carry on a conversation in another language, and kiss someone on top of a ferris wheel. And I don’t want to one day think that those things are cheesy and silly. But the thought still lingers — what if, one day, they will be silly? What if everything I hope for right now in life will one day seem like nothing more than the sentimental wishings of a sixteen year old girl?
It’s only when I consider things in that light, that I realize which dreams and aspirations of mine are really important. I’m always going to be growing up. I’m constantly getting older and (hopefully!) wiser. Each day I’m growing a little taller, not smaller. (Quoting Barney again) And so I’m always going to be getting new ideas and dreams about different things. But, hopefully, only one dream of mine will never change. No matter how old I grow to be, I hope that I will always dream of being a more godly woman, as well as a more loving and joyful one. I pray that I’ll constantly long to become more wise and humble and caring. I want my one life-long dream to be that I will grow up to be someone who brings God’s light to the life of others. Who impacts those around her and really cares about people.
Broadway will never know what they missed out on that afternoon I decided to throw away my dreams of being an actress. Most likely, they’d be thanking the Lord that they never had to deal with the likes of Rachel Coker. But hopefully I will always know what I am gaining by putting away my selfish wishes and working toward my ultimate goal of being more like Christ. I may never be a professional speller with a moody British boyfriend and the lungs of Barbara Streisand, but hopefully the life I’ll live will be filled with so much more.
Confession time: I am a nerd. Just kidding. That wouldn’t really be a confession, since we already sort of discussed this in detail a couple weeks ago. Anyway, the nerdiness in me was just begging to share with you the fact that today is one of my absolute favorite holidays: National Talk Like Shakespeare Day! Aren’t you just dying of excitement? While I haven’t read every Shakespeare play or even consider myself a huge fan of the guy, I must say that I am still absolutely tickled pink at the idea of this holiday. Definitely something to celebrate.
The best part of National Talk Like Shakespeare Day? Obviously, it is the fact that today you have full permission to go around and actually talk like a seventeenth century actor, and nobody will look at you like you’re a weirdo! Well, I mean, I guess I can’t promise that they won’t think you’re a weirdo, but at least you can rest with the assurance that are in fact not one. You’re just a celebrator of history!
Anyway, I went to the official holiday website and found this list that I would love to pass on to you all. Since we’re all probably a little out of touch with Renaissancian (?) lingo, here are some suggestions on how to work a little Shakespeare into your conversation today:
How to Talk Like Shakespeare:
- Instead of you, say thou or thee (and instead of y’all, say ye).
- Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
- Men are Sirrah, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin.
- Instead of cursing, try calling your tormenters jackanapes or canker-blossoms or poisonous bunch-back’d toads.
- Don’t waste time saying “it,” just use the letter “t” (’tis, t’will, I’ll do’t).
- Verse for lovers, prose for ruffians, songs for clowns.
- When in doubt, add the letters “eth” to the end of verbs (he runneth, he trippeth, he falleth).
- To add weight to your opinions, try starting them with methinks, mayhaps, in sooth or wherefore.
- When wooing ladies: try comparing her to a summer’s day. If that fails, say “Get thee to a nunnery!”
- When wooing lads: try dressing up like a man. If that fails, throw him in the Tower, banish his friends and claim the throne.
Fantastic suggestions, all. I particularly love the ones about wooing. I mean, who “woos” nowadays? Also, I found a great treasury of delightful insults, if you care to use any of them.
- “Drop into the rotten mouth of death.”
- “Thou art fat as butter.”
- “Thine horrid image doth unfix my hair”.
- “Thou qualling swag-bellied measle!”
- “Were I like thee, I’d throw myself away.”
- “I scorn you, scurvy companion. Away, you moldy rogue, away!”
- “You scullion! You rampallion! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”
And, oh, there are so many more insults. So many. It really makes one quite gleeful to read through them all, if that makes any sense.
Just some things for you to think about as you conduct your conversations today. Methinks you should throw in a little Shakespeare from time to time…
P.S. If you have time, check out the official website, and listen to the hip-hop birthday anthem. “Alas, what is up, Willie?” Doesn’t get any better than that.
One of the fantastic questions I was asked the other night when speaking at a library event had to do with whether to build stories around plot lines or characters. If you’ve ever heard me talk about writing before, you may already know my answer to this. If not, prepare to be surprised! Because my opinion on the topic is this: The plot really doesn’t matter.
Before you get all offended on me, let me explain. Okay, the plot maybe does matter, but in the end it’s not really that important. The crux of your story shouldn’t be the death of the villain or who gets the girl in the end or whether or not your hero gets accepted to that Ivy League college. All of that is just extra material. Don’t believe me? Think about this:
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? One that made you shut the cover and just think Wow, when you finished reading it. Well, I can bet that wow didn’t come from one epic sword scene or the crowning of the king at the end. That may be the first thing you think of, but that’s not really why you liked that book. You fell in love with that story because you felt a connection to the people that it was about. You cheered when they succeeded and cried when they hurt. You laughed at the funny things they thought and said, and your stomach flipped just like theirs did when the perfect guy carried out the perfect proposal and everything ended happily in the last chapter. Or else you bawled your eyes out at the death of the hero’s best friend, because you just couldn’t imagine going through that kind of pain and sorrow.
Well, if that’s the case, you need to give serious props to whoever wrote that book that made you fall so hard. Because that author has got it right. The best stories are the ones where the reader walks away with a connection to the main characters. The kind of connection where those characters aren’t just pawns in some kind of epic plot or distractions to keep us entertained between the intense pivotal scenes. Rather, they are people. They have hopes and dreams and quirks that we love them for. And what we as readers enjoy most about our favorite stories is the opportunity to re-watch over and over again their amazing transformations. Because they grow and change and flourish, and that is exciting to view.
As a writer, your main responsibility is to create that connection. You want for your readers to feel for your characters. And that’s not going to happen if you don’t feel for them yourself. You have to view your characters as something more than just figments of your imagination. It’s more important than that. They behave in ways that you don’t, and do things you’d never dream about. Therefore it’s important for you to understand them.
This may sound really weird to those of you who have never written fiction before, or who view their characters as a flat, two-dimensional object. They’re just words typed out and written on a page, nothing but stark black letters against a white background, and can change pretty much however you want them to. If that’s how you think, then stop. If that’s how you really view your characters, then your story will never have the heart that you want it to.
The most important part of developing your story is developing your characters. Push past the surface and the stale clichés you may have given them. The handsome jock, the lonely orphan, the spoiled brat. They are more than that. They have pasts and stories and circumstances that have made them the way you are. And you need to figure out what those circumstances are. And how are they challenged because of them? What are they hoping to accomplish in life? What are their hopes, and goals, and fears? Once you can figure all this out, you have a story. And once you have a good story, you have the potential for a good book. It doesn’t have anything to do with a bank robbery or a sword fight. It has to do with what the feelings and emotions are that pushes those characters to commit a robbery or participate in a sword fight. And what are they hoping to accomplish after that?
One thing I remember being really convinced of when I was filling out my character chart for Allie. Allie was going to have rough hands. Since she was looking after her mother, her hands were the ones subjected to burns and cuts and bruises. Her mother’s hands were white and smooth. Hers were rough and worn. Even though this particular aspect wasn’t a huge part of the book, it was very crucial to my development of Allie’s character. Her story was a story of rough hands. It was about endurance and toughness and not letting anyone see her cry. She wasn’t a soft hands kind of person. Once I realized this, other parts of the story started clicking together in my mind. She would respond to certain situations like a calloused hand. She wore her toughness like a blister, hiding the soft skin underneath. Instantly, I knew exactly how here reactions to certain circumstances and plot twists would be.
I feel like this is one of those blog entries where I’m really rambling. Sorry if you’re having difficulty following me. It’s just that this is one subject where I am really passionate. There is nothing that makes me cringe more than writers asking for advice on their plot development, when they should be asking to help develop their characters.
Life doesn’t work as a series of plots. Life is the stories of individuals, and what those individuals think and feel about the things that happen to them. Make your stories the same way. Take time to care about your characters as people. Think about habits you’ve already given them, and consider where those habits may lead. Once you push past the exterior and really take a look inside these characters, you realize that they are a lot deeper than you may have thought. They have hopes and dreams and fears. Every little thing that they have gone through has shaped them into who they are today and prepared them for the trials they are facing right now. They have a story to tell, a story that you have to record. And even though you know you can’t do it justice, you have to write it anyway.
P.S. I posted some photos from my book signing the other night, as well as my latest vlog, on my Facebook page! Check it out!
Well, I’m still alive. Just in case you were wondering. Sorry, it’s been a crazy week. This has been one of the first weeks where I really felt like I was growing up. I went to court and got my driver’s license (!), work, work, worked, and was able to drive myself to hang out with friends in town. Phew! I’ve missed blogging, though, and it’s good to be back.
This is very random, but I had a really weird moment the other day. I was walking around the house, humming to myself “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, when all of the sudden I realized that I was living out my childhood dream. For years, all I wanted was to be Liesl, tall and mature and old. Now I realize that I really am sixteen, going on seventeen. It actually happened! As soon as this set in, I froze in my tracks and shouted, “Oh my gosh!” before proceeding to make everyone in my family aware of this astounding fact. They weren’t nearly as excited as I was, but I didn’t really care.
Anyway, this was a highly boring blog post, but I just needed to get back into the swing of things. I’ve got a big book signing/speaking event this evening, so I’ll try to post photos tomorrow! 🙂
I meant to post these over Easter weekend but–alas!–life got in the way and I never got around to it. But we’re supposed to celebrate Christ’s resurrection every day of the year, right? So I think it’s okay for me to post these photos a few days after the fact. We had a really nice, peaceful day. We watched the sun rise, worshipped at church, relaxed all afternoon, baked a ham, enjoyed good fellowship, and ate a lot of sweets.
I think Easter is one of my favorite holidays, just because it’s so wonderful to see everyone all dressed up and bright eyed. We’re all joyful because we know that Christ has risen!
I got seriously sidetracked the other day. Here is how it happened: I was sitting at my laptop, wrapping up a couple of interviews and guest blog posts that were nearly due. Out of nowhere, a song from my past reappeared in my brain. So, I did what any teenager with a laptop and a song stuck in her head would due. I looked it up and listened to it on Youtube. And then I went from diligently working in silence, to sitting there belting out “I LOOK ONCE MORE!!!! Just around the riverbend!!!” like some kind of tone-deaf three-year-old. And after I sang every word to that song, I noticed another Disney song that I recognized on the sidebar. And I clicked it.
To make a long story short, I spent the better half of the afternoon singing Disney songs and re-living the first ten years of my life. But after the eighth or ninth musical number, indignation started settling in. The more I listened to these catchy little time-snares, the more problems I had with Disney. Because, let’s face it, these songs probably did not teach me the best life lessons when I was six years old.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Disney musicals. I’ll always be a kid at heart, and I’ll always remember every stinkin’ word to “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. However, below is just a few of the many, many lies that Disney has fed me through those visually appealing fairy tales:
- First off, Disney princesses gave me unrealistic expectations about hair. I learned that hair is supposed to be full, shiny, and well-shaped, and should never, ever move unless it is tossed over your shoulder in an alluring manner. Never should it be worn in a ponytail, or a messy bun, unless maybe you are a mistreated stepdaughter slaving away for a bunch of unattractive brats and the whole ponytail/messy bun thing is a part of your overall look. Then I guess it’s okay.
- And also about men. According to Mulan’s hunky guy Shane, to be a man you must: 1) Be as swift as the coursing river, 2) Possess the force of a great typhoon, 3) Be as strong as a raging fire, and 4) Remain as mysterious as the dark side of the moon. No wonder I haven’t met the perfect guy yet! If I keep judging men by how swift and river-like they are, I’m pretty sure I will never find love. 😦
- The spontaneous singing in Disney movies is also something that did not translate very well into my own life. I tried it once. Randomly singing about something in public, that is. No one joined in. The lobsters did not orchestrate a perfect, sea-creature filled orchestra. There were no chirping birds or singing tea pots. Just awkward, judging stares.
- And you know what? It is totally unfair that Disney characters get such amazing names. There are no “Ann”s or “Mildred”s or “Bob”s in Disney movies. Instead they have to be all fancy and name their heroines things like “Jasmine” and “Nala” and “Ariel”. When I was little, I begged my mom to call me “Aurora” and she flat-out denied my request. Come on, Mom! How did you expect me to be happy with a name like “Rachel” when my hero was named after the glorious red-streaked dawn? I still don’t know how I ever got over that one…
- Dangerous pets are another thing that get a really bad rep in real life, but work out just fine in Disney movies. No one ever questioned Cinderella playing with rodents, Pocahontas jumping off waterfalls with a racoon, or Snow White sharing her home with squirrels and rabbits. Jasmine had a stinkin’ tiger. So I don’t think any parent should be able to tell their child that large dogs don’t make safe pets when we just saw a princess cuddling with a wildcat.
- For years, after watching Disney movies, I also believed that you could see a guy once, pine after him for weeks, sell your voice to a sea witch, and leave your home to chase after him, and everything would turn out okay. Or you could fall in love with a thief and convince your dad to take in a wanted convict as a son-in-law with little to no problems. Or dress as a boy, join the army, disappoint your commanding officer, save your country, and end up making the disappointed officer love you anyway. Now I’m not so sure if any of these would work out in real life…
But you know what the saddest, most grievous problem I have with Disney movies is? That I totally fell for every one of them. And that I still love them. No matter how frustrated I get at those crazy chicks with their perfect hair jumping off waterfalls and cuddling with tigers, I still know all the words to every song. And I still thinking flying on a magic carpet would be the best first date ever, and I still get choked up when I think about a girl sacrificing her life and potential happiness to save her father and show love to someone who never knew it.
Shame on you, Disney! I don’t know how you do it…
And that is just the cold hard truth. Trust me, this is something I have seriously tried to prove wrong. I’m one of those personalities that thrives on success. I love being successful. Seriously! When I get something right, it makes me feel really good about myself. I start thinking, Oh, I’m such a natural at this. If only finding all the items on the grocery list in less than ten minutes was like an Olympic sport or something. I might win a medal! I’m just so naturally good at it! You may laugh, but you’ve probably thought that (or something similar) about yourself before, too.
And then there’s the flip side. I hate it when I stink at something. It’s embarrassing and degrading and downright awful! If I could have it my way, I would just be totally great at every single thing I tried. And that would be the end of things.
Unfortunately, no matter how nice that would be, that’s just not how life goes. Case in point: I was talking with one of my friend’s moms the other day, and the topic of my work came up.
Her: So you waited fourteen years to write your first book, huh?
Me: Yes, ma’am. (Because I am such a Southern belle)
Her: And then you got it published.
Me: Yes, it was a really exciting experience!
Her: And you teach piano.
Me: Yes, ma’am.
Her: And you have a photography business.
Me (getting uncomfortable): Um, yes ma’am.
Her: Well, you’re just good at everything, aren’t you?
I probably would have laughed right then if not for the fact that 1) she was totally serious, and 2) she was completely wrong. Why? Because I am bad at so many things. I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was thirteen. And then, on my first day on wheels, I crashed into a brick wall. My cooking skills are sometimes questionable, and I once caught the oven on fire while baking a pie. My stick figure drawings look anorexic, if that’s even possible, and if I had to run for my life I would probably die.
But you know what? I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. So what if I fake the high C’s and lose chess games in two bad moves? If I let myself believe those are the only things keeping me from being perfect, then I might be in serious need of a psychiatrist. (In addition to a chess tutor, which I am in obvious need of, so that my games can last longer than five minutes)
In the end, that woman walked away without any false illusions of me or my greatness. My family ended up cracking up when she said that last line, and took turns going around in a circle sharing everything I am definitely not good at. “Have you seen the girl drive a golf cart? She can make an open field look dangerous!” But still, the conversation made me think.
You know what? I failed at something this week. I mixed up my driving directions on the way to the movie theater and ended up making two or three U-turns, hopefully all of which were legal. But it doesn’t bother me. So what if I’m bad at directions? Who really cares? In the end, I’m not going to try to be good at everything because, quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t be very good at it. 😉
P.S. The illustration up top may not necessarily relate to this post, but that is what my interpretation of art looks like. If you needed proof.
I’m going to give you some advice today. This is a semi-rare occurrence, so be sure to listen up. 😉 Normally I love to share with you all the upbeat, positive, and encouraging aspects of my life. And it’s true that being an author is a wonderful thing. I get to meet so many people and talk to so many readers. And, hello! I get to basically sit around and write for a living, which is obviously awesome. 😉 But today I want to share with you another, less exciting part of the writing/publishing journey. And that is rejection.
To be a writer, you need to have tough skin. I decided before my book became published, that I was never going to cry about it. No matter how mean people were in their criticisms of me or my work, I was going to keep a stiff upper lip. I realize now that I was being prideful and stuck-up when I told myself that. Why? Because I was assuming that it would be beneath me to have feelings. That it would make me a weaker person to be hurt when someone doesn’t like me. That my book was above criticism or reproach.
There have been cases where I have dealt with rejection, and felt that it was totally unfair. Ever received a rejection letter from an agent that sounds like it was typed out in ten seconds and sent to every single wannabe writer who ever contacted them? I have. Dozens of them. And I’ve been looked over for speaking engagements, book signings, and workshops. But I’m okay with that. Really and truly okay.
What’s harder is when I deal with criticism from someone who has actually read my book and didn’t like it. Because I know that it sounds vain and prideful and arrogant, but I want people to like me! Obviously I see all the flaws with my work, probably better than anyone else. And yet every time I hear someone make a stinging remark about it, it stings me, too. It hurts to hear people say that I need to mature, or be less preachy, or be more preachy, or make up better endings. Let me make it clear again, I totally realize that all of that is one hundred percent true, but it messes with my pride.
Now is when I’m going to give you that advice I promised at the beginning of the post. Here it is: Find someone who will criticize you, reject you, and make you feel like a piece of dirt. And then thank them. Because that person has done way more for you than any fan of your writing will ever do.
That’s probably not what you were expecting me to say, but I’ll try to make it clear. Every time I have been angry or upset or hurt by something someone said about me, I grew that much more. God shapes us through our humbling and embarrassing experiences. Sometimes it takes a critic to remind us that we are not perfect, and never will be. Our work will always have flaws, and we’ll always need people to point that out for us. No matter how good we may be feeling about ourselves, there will always be at least one aspect of our lives that we can work on.
I can’t say that I’m quite ready yet to cheer on my critics. To develop tough skin and smile with a sweet “Thank you” every time I read something negative about my book. But even if it might bring me down for a while, I’m thankful for the opportunities to grow. To remember that it is only by the grace of God that I can write anything even half-good at all! To be grateful for discovering another thing that I can work to be better at. And to share with others the big things that God is doing in my life, shaping me through rejections and growing me through pain.
So, you may have figured it out by now, but guess what? I’m now on Facebook! That’s right: the Rachel Coker fan page is now totally official. As of this moment, I have exactly zero “likes”, which obviously makes me feel real good about myself, but maybe you can help me out and follow me there. 🙂 I’ll be posting every time I have a new blog entry, so it should be easier for some of you to stay in-the-loop.